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Environ Int. 2007 Apr;33(3):370-5. Epub 2007 Jan 16.

Aquatic toxicity of acetaminophen, carbamazepine, cimetidine, diltiazem and six major sulfonamides, and their potential ecological risks in Korea.

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  • 1School of Public Health, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.


Pharmaceuticals are manufactured and used for specific biological functions in veterinary and human medicine. Their detection in the environment and their bioactivity have resulted in concern for potential adverse effects on non-target species. Notwithstanding recent attention for their occurrence in the environment, there are significant research gaps for existing pharmaceuticals with regard to their potential ecological consequences. In this study, the four most abundantly used pharmaceuticals in Korea, namely acetaminophen, carbamazepine, cimetidine, and diltiazem, and six sulfonamide related antibiotics, including sulfamethoxazole, sulfachlorpyridazine, sulfathiazole, sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine, and trimethoprim were examined for their acute aquatic toxicity employing a marine bacterium (Vibrio fischeri), a freshwater invertebrate (Daphnia magna), and the Japanese medaka fish (Oryzias latipes). In general, Daphnia was the most susceptible among the test organisms. The most acutely toxic among the chemicals tested in this study was diltiazem, with a median lethal concentration of 8.2 mg/L for D. magna. The resulting acute toxicity of these pharmaceuticals was reasonably predicted by physicochemical descriptors such as pH-dependent distribution coefficient and EHOMO-ELUMO gap. Predicted environmental concentrations (PECs) derived for the test pharmaceuticals in Korea ranged between 0.14 and 16.5 microg/L. Hazard quotients derived from PECs and predicted no effect concentrations (PNECs) for sulfamethoxazole and acetaminophen were 6.3 and 1.8, respectively, suggesting potential environmental concerns and a need for further investigation.

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