This study aimed at enhancing knowledge on the fate of diclofenac (DF), together with its main human metabolite 4′-hydroxydiclofenac (4′OHDF), during wastewater treatment by using a laboratory-scale membrane bioreactor (MBR). The reactor was fed continuously with non-radiolabelled diclofenac for a one month period prior to a single pulse of a 14C-radiolabelled solution of DF and 4′OHDF. The solution spike contained approximately 25% 4′OHDF and 65% DF, which corresponds to the ratio observed in municipal sewage, as well as traces of two other metabolites. The radioactivity was monitored for a total of twelve days in the various output streams. The calculation of the complete mass balance in the system demonstrated that the major part of the radioactivity left the reactor with the permeate (88.7%), while 2.1% was recovered in the excess sludge. Negligible amounts were recovered in the off-gas traps and on the membranes. Chromatographic analyses of effluent samples, by means of HPLC-MS coupled in parallel to a radiodetector, displayed a different pattern than the one of the spiked solution. It showed the occurrence of three additional metabolites.

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