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J Toxicol Sci. 2013;38(2):215-23.

Photodegradation of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment by sunlight and UV-A, -B and -C irradiation.

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  • 1Graduate School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan.


In order to investigate the effect of sunlight on the persistence and ecotoxicity of pharmaceuticals contaminating the aquatic environment, we exposed nine pharmaceuticals (acetaminophen (AA), amiodarone (AM), dapsone (DP), dexamethasone (DX), indomethacin (IM), naproxen (NP), phenytoin (PH), raloxifene (RL), and sulindac (SL)) in aqueous media to sunlight and to ultraviolet (UV) irradiation at 254, 302 or 365 nm (UV-C, UV-B or UV-A, respectively). Degradation of the pharmaceuticals was monitored by means of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Sunlight completely degraded AM, DP and DX within 6 hr, and partly degraded the other pharmaceuticals, except AA and PH, which were not degraded. Similar results were obtained with UV-B, while UV-A was less effective (both UV-A and -B are components of sunlight). All the pharmaceuticals were photodegraded by UV-C, which is used for sterilization in sewage treatment plants. Thus, the photodegradation rates of pharmaceuticals are dependent on both chemical structure and the wavelength of UV exposure. Toxicity assay using the luminescent bacteria test (ISO11348) indicated that UV irradiation reduced the toxicity of some pharmaceuticals to aquatic organisms by decreasing their amount (photodegradation) and increased the toxicity of others by generating toxic photoproduct(s). These results indicate the importance of investigating not only parent compounds, but also photoproducts in the risk assessment of pharmaceuticals in aquatic environments.

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