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Aquat Toxicol. 2006 Feb 10;76(2):122-59. Epub 2005 Oct 27.

Ecotoxicology of human pharmaceuticals.

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University of Applied Sciences Basel, Institute of Environmental Technology, Muttenz, Switzerland.

Erratum in

  • Aquat Toxicol. 2006 Jun 15;78(2):207.


Low levels of human medicines (pharmaceuticals) have been detected in many countries in sewage treatment plant (STP) effluents, surface waters, seawaters, groundwater and some drinking waters. For some pharmaceuticals effects on aquatic organisms have been investigated in acute toxicity assays. The chronic toxicity and potential subtle effects are only marginally known, however. Here, we critically review the current knowledge about human pharmaceuticals in the environment and address several key questions. What kind of pharmaceuticals and what concentrations occur in the aquatic environment? What is the fate in surface water and in STP? What are the modes of action of these compounds in humans and are there similar targets in lower animals? What acute and chronic ecotoxicological effects may be elicited by pharmaceuticals and by mixtures? What are the effect concentrations and how do they relate to environmental levels? Our review shows that only very little is known about long-term effects of pharmaceuticals to aquatic organisms, in particular with respect to biological targets. For most human medicines analyzed, acute effects to aquatic organisms are unlikely, except for spills. For investigated pharmaceuticals chronic lowest observed effect concentrations (LOEC) in standard laboratory organisms are about two orders of magnitude higher than maximal concentrations in STP effluents. For diclofenac, the LOEC for fish toxicity was in the range of wastewater concentrations, whereas the LOEC of propranolol and fluoxetine for zooplankton and benthic organisms were near to maximal measured STP effluent concentrations. In surface water, concentrations are lower and so are the environmental risks. However, targeted ecotoxicological studies are lacking almost entirely and such investigations are needed focusing on subtle environmental effects. This will allow better and comprehensive risk assessments of pharmaceuticals in the future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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