Characterization and risk assessment of seasonal and weather dynamics in organic pollutant mixtures from discharge of a separate sewer system.
Sites of wastewater discharge are hotspots for pollution of freshwaters with organic micropollutants and are often associated with adverse effects to aquatic organisms. The assessment, monitoring and managment of these hotspots is challenged by variations in the pollutant mixture composition due to season, weather conditions and random spills. In this study, we unraveled temporal exposure patterns in organic micropollutant mixtures from wastewater discharge and analyzed respective acute and sublethal risks for aquatic organisms. Samples were taken from two components of a separate sewer system i) a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and ii) a rain sewer of a medium size town as well as from the receiving river in different seasons. Rain sewer samples were separately collected for rain and dry - weather conditions. We analyzed 149 compounds by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). By considering the pollution dynamics in the point sources, we reduced the complexity of pollutant mixtures by k-means clustering to a few emission groups representing temporal and weather-related pollution patterns. From these groups, we derived biological quality element (BQE) - specific risk patterns. In most cases, one main risk driving emission group and a few individual risk driving compounds were identified for each BQE. While acute risk for fish was quite low, algae were exposed to seasonally emitted herbicides (terbuthylazine, spiroxamine) and crustaceans to randomly spilled insecticides (diazinon, dimethoate). Sublethal risks for all BQE were strongly influenced by constantly emitted pollutants, above all, pharmaceuticals. Variability of risks in the river was mainly driven by water discharge of the river rather than by season or peak events. Overall, the studied WWTP represented the major pollution source with a specific emission of agricultural compounds. However, the investigated rain sewer showed to be a constant pollution source due to illicit connections and was an important entry route for high loads of insecticides and biocides due to spills or incorrect disposal. By considering these pollution and risk dynamics, monitoring strategies may be optimized with a special focus on times of low flow conditions in the river, rain events and seasonally emitted risk drivers.