12 Scopus citations


During the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance was leveraged as a powerful tool for monitoring community-scale health. Further, the well-known persistence of some pharmaceuticals through wastewater treatment plants spurred concerns that increased usage of pharmaceuticals during the pandemic would increase the concentrations in wastewater treatment plant effluent. We collected weekly influent and effluent samples from May 2020 through May 2021 from two wastewater treatment plants in central Pennsylvania, the Penn State Water Reclamation Facility and the University Area Joint Authority, that provide effluent for beneficial reuse, including for irrigation. Samples were analyzed for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (influent only), two over-the-counter medicines (acetaminophen and naproxen), five antibiotics (ampicillin, doxycycline, ofloxacin, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim), two therapeutic agents (remdesivir and dexamethasone), and hydroxychloroquine. Although there were no correlations between pharmaceutical and virus concentration, remdesivir detection occurred when the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 increased, and dexamethasone detection co-occurred with the presence of patients with COVID-19 on ventilators. Additionally, Penn State decision-making regarding instruction modes explained the temporal variation of influent pharmaceutical concentrations, with detection occurring primarily when students were on campus. Risk quotients calculated for pharmaceuticals with known effective and lethal concentrations at which 50% of a population is affected for fish, daphnia, and algae were generally low in the effluent; however, some acute risks from sulfamethoxazole were high when students returned to campus. Remdesivir and dexamethasone persisted through the wastewater treatment plants, thereby introducing novel pharmaceuticals directly to soils and surface water. These results highlight connections between human health and water quality and further demonstrate the broad utility of wastewater surveillance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1066-1082
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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