Transformation of phthalates and their metabolites in wastewater under different sewer conditions

Publication Name

Water Research


There is an increasing demand to monitor the human exposure to phthalates, and a few studies have used phthalate metabolites in wastewater to estimate exposure to these chemicals in the population. However, it is suspected that the stability of phthalates and phthalate metabolites during sewer transport can influence the final estimates. In this study, we used laboratory sewer reactors to evaluate the in-sewer transformation of phthalates and their metabolites, and deconjugation of phthalate metabolites. We found concentrations of parent phthalates decreased quickly over time while the concentrations of phthalate metabolites increased significantly for most compounds, indicating that parent phthalate compounds are partly transformed into their metabolites in the sewer. Our assessment of the deconjugation of glucuronide-conjugated phthalate metabolites found that this process did not significantly affect the concentrations of phthalate metabolites in the wastewater, with the relative difference ranging from -16% to 7% between enzymatically treated samples and control group. Additionally, our results showed that phthalate metabolites could be subject to rapid degradation during the incubation process. Our findings suggested that the level of phthalate metabolites in sewage could be strongly influenced by the in-sewer transformation of the parent phthalates and of themselves, and could not be assumed as uniquely the results of urinary excretion after human exposure to parent phthalates.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



Link to publisher version (DOI)