Caffeine vs. carbamazepine as indicators of wastewater pollution in a karst aquifer

Noam Zach Dvory*, Yakov Livshitz, Michael Kuznetsov, Eilon Adar, Guy Gasser, Irena Pankratov, Ovadia Lev, Alexander Yakirevich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


This paper presents the analysis of caffeine and carbamazepine transport in the subsurface as a result of wastewater release in the Sorek creek over the outcrops of the carbonate, Yarkon-Taninim, aquifer in Israel. Both caffeine and carbamazepine were used as indicators of sewage contamination in the subsurface. While carbamazepine is considered conservative, caffeine is subject to sorption and degradation. The objective of the study was to quantify differences in their transport under similar conditions in the karst aquifer. Water flow and pollutant transport in a "vadose zone-aquifer" system were simulated by a quasi-3-D dual permeability numerical model. The results of this study show that each of these two pollutants can be considered effective tracers for characterization and assessment of aquifer contamination. Carbamazepine was found to be more suitable for assessing the contamination boundaries, while caffeine can be used as a contaminant tracer only briefly after contamination occurs. In instances where there are low concentrations of carbamazepine which appear as background contamination in an aquifer, caffeine might serve as a better marker for detecting new contamination events, given its temporal nature. The estimated caffeine degradation rate and the distribution coefficient of a linear sorption isotherm were 0.091d-1 and 0.1Lkg-1, respectively, which imply a high attenuation capacity. The results of the simulation indicate that by the end of the year most of the carbamazepine mass (approximately 95%) remained in the matrix of the vadose zone, while all of the caffeine was completely degraded a few months after the sewage was discharged.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6371-6381
Number of pages11
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - 10 Dec 2018

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