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Environ Technol. 2001 Dec;22(12):1383-94.

Human pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment a review.

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  • 1Environmental Processes and Water Technology Group, Department of Environmental Science and Technology, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, UK.


There has been increasing concern in recent years about the occurrence, fate and toxicity of pharmaceutical products in the aquatic environment. Many of the more commonly used drug groups (for example antibiotics) are used in quantities similar to those of pesticides and other organic micropollutants, but they are not required to undergo the same level of testing for possible environmental effects. The full extent and consequences of the presence of these compounds in the environment are therefore largely unknown and the issue as a whole is ill-defined. Although these compounds have been detected in a wide variety of environmental samples including sewage effluent, surface waters, groundwater and drinking water, their concentrations generally range from the low ppt to ppb levels. It is therefore often thought to be unlikely that pharmaceuticals will have a detrimental effect on the environment. However, the lack of validated analytical methods, limited monitoring data and the lack of information about the fate and toxicity of these compounds and/or their metabolites in the aquatic environment makes accurate risk assessments difficult.

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