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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2016 Apr;35(4):823-35. doi: 10.1002/etc.3339. Epub 2016 Feb 25.

Pharmaceuticals in the environment--Global occurrences and perspectives.

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IWW Water Centre, Department of Water Resources Management, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.
Section IV 2.2 Pharmaceuticals, Washing and Cleaning Agents, Umweltbundesamt (German Federal Environment Agency), Dessau, Germany.


Pharmaceuticals are known to occur widely in the environment of industrialized countries. In developing countries, more monitoring results have recently become available, but a concise picture of measured environmental concentrations (MECs) is still elusive. Through a comprehensive literature review of 1016 original publications and 150 review articles, the authors collected MECs for human and veterinary pharmaceutical substances reported worldwide in surface water, groundwater, tap/drinking water, manure, soil, and other environmental matrices in a comprehensive database. Due to the heterogeneity of the data sources, a simplified data quality assessment was conducted. The database reveals that pharmaceuticals or their transformation products have been detected in the environment of 71 countries covering all continents. These countries were then grouped into the 5 regions recognized by the United Nations (UN). In total, 631 different pharmaceutical substances were found at MECs above the detection limit of the respective analytical methods employed, revealing distinct regional patterns. Sixteen substances were detected in each of the 5 UN regions. For example, the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac has been detected in environmental matrices in 50 countries, and concentrations found in several locations exceeded predicted no-effect concentrations. Urban wastewater seems to be the dominant emission pathway for pharmaceuticals globally, although emissions from industrial production, hospitals, agriculture, and aquaculture are important locally. The authors conclude that pharmaceuticals are a global challenge calling for multistakeholder approaches to prevent, reduce, and manage their entry into and presence in the environment, such as those being discussed under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, a UN Environment Program.


Emerging pollutant; Global measured environmental concentration database; Measured environmental concentration; Pharmaceutical; Pharmaceutical consumption

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