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Chemosphere. 2011 Nov;85(10):1548-54. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2011.07.058. Epub 2011 Sep 16.

Are pharmaceuticals more harmful than other pollutants to aquatic invertebrate species: a hypothesis tested using multi-biomarker and multi-species responses in field collected and transplanted organisms.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Chemistry, IDAEA-CSIC, Jordi Girona, 18-26, 08034 Barcelona, Spain.


The aim of this study was to test if pharmaceuticals could explain observed responses of field collected and transplanted invertebrate species (Hydropsyche exocellata, Echinogammarus longisetosus, and Daphnia magna). The study was performed in the middle and lower course of Llobregat river basin, which is affected by pharmaceuticals and other pollutants coming from sewage treated effluents. Up to 10 different endpoints including enzyme activities related with detoxication mechanisms (i.e. glutathione S transferase, catalase, esterases), the oxidative stress damage marker (lipid peroxidation), and individual responses (mortality, post-exposure feeding rates) were assessed. Biological responses were complemented with a detailed chemical analysis of metals, detergents, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other general water quality variables to allow identifying causal abiotic factors. Estimated hazard indexes of measured pollutants indicated that pesticides and metals accounted for most of the predicted toxicity (>95%) in the most contaminated site and that the predicted toxicity of pharmaceuticals was marginal (<5%). The three species showed a clear impact across the studied gradient indicated by higher levels of feeding inhibition and of mortality towards lower reaches. Specific responses such as inhibition of cholinesterase activities were closely related to high and presumable toxic levels of diazinon, whereas unspecific responses such as enhanced levels of antioxidant defensive mechanism and of lipid peroxidation levels were associated with most pollutant classes as well as with high and presumable toxic levels of salt and ammonia. These results indicate that pesticides, salinity, ammonia probably had greater effects on the studied species than pharmaceuticals.

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