Identification of cocaine and its metabolites in urban wastewater and comparison with the human excretion profile in urine

Sara Castiglioni, Renzo Bagnati, Manuela Melis, Deepika Panawennage, Paul Chiarelli, Roberto Fanelli, Ettore Zuccato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The most relevant human urinary metabolites of cocaine (nine metabolites) were measured in urban wastewater in Italy and USA. A novel analytical method based on liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry allowed the identification of ecgonine, ecgonine methyl ester and the pyrolytic derivatives of cocaine in untreated wastewater. The aim of this study was to verify whether the pattern of cocaine metabolites in wastewater reflected the human excretion profile in urine. The performance of the method was good, with recoveries higher than 60% and limits of quantifications in the low ng/L range. The stability in untreated wastewater was assessed for all metabolites and the best storage condition resulted freezing samples immediately after collection and keep them frozen until analysis. All the selected compounds were measured in wastewater at concentrations up to 1.5 μg/L and their weekly loads were calculated during a five weeks monitoring campaign in Milan (Italy). The profiles of cocaine metabolites in wastewater matched with those in human urine reported in the literature, suggesting that measures in wastewater reflect the real human excretion and that wastewater analysis is suitable for assessing drug consumption. Benzoylecgonine was confirmed as the best target for estimating cocaine use by wastewater analysis, while cocaine itself should not be considered because its amount in wastewater is affected by other environmental sources such as transport, handling and consumption. Results suggested that the measurement of other metabolites in combination with benzoylecgonine might reflect 60% of an administered dose of cocaine providing also information on different patterns of use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5141-5150
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2011


  • Cocaine
  • Human excretion profile
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Sewage epidemiology
  • Urban wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Ecological Modelling


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