The use of caffeine as a chemical marker of domestic wastewater contamination in surface waters: seasonal and spatial variations in Teresópolis, Brazil

Abstract This study assessed the suitability of caffeine as an indicator for surface water pollution by domestic wastewaters. Caffeine concentrations determined in samples collected in the Paquequer River, located at the city of Teresópolis, a medium-sized city in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were compared to other conventional water quality parameters such as phosphate, nitrate and ammonium concentrations to determine whether it as an efficient indicator of anthropic pollution of an urban aquatic environment. The Paquequer River originates in a pristine area called Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos (PARNASO) and it crosses the urban area of the city of Teresópolis. Water samples were collected at seven points along the river, considering the periods of rain (summer) and drought (winter) and the different uses of land. Caffeine was measured using Solid Phase Extraction (SPE) and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Caffeine concentrations were found in a range from 0.16 to 47.5 µg L-1. The results show a positive relation between caffeine, phosphate, nitrate and ammonium concentrations and the increase of wastewater load, suggesting that caffeine can be used as an indicator of surface water pollution by domestic wastewaters.