Environmental presence and persistence of pharmaceuticals: An overview

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Emerging contaminants (ECs) in the environment – that is, chemicals with domestic, municipal, industrial, or agricultural sources that are not commonly monitored but may have the potential for adverse environmental effects – is a rapidly growing field of research. The use of “emerging” is not intended to infer that the presence of these compounds in the environment is new. These chemicals have been released into the environment as long as they have been in production or, in the case of hormones and other endogenous compounds, since the rise of animal life. What is emerging is the interest by the scientific and lay communities in the presence of these chemicals in the environment, the analytical capabilities required for detection, and the subtle effects that very small concentrations of these chemicals appear to have on aquatic biota. In December 2006, Environmental Science & Technology devoted an entire special issue (volume 40, number 23) to the topic of ECs, illustrating the increased interest in the subject. Within the EGs, one particular class that has seen a substantial increase in research over the past 10 years is pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCPs). This increased research interest can be demonstrated by several means, including requests for proposals from funding agencies, but the clearest indication of a focused effort to understand the introduction, transformation, and potential health and environmental effects of PPCPs and ECs, in general, is the number of published reports. This increase can be shown by examining six environmental journals that regularly publish PPCP-related papers – Chemosphere, Environmental Science & Technology, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Water Research, and Water Science and Technology. In 1998 there were 22 papers published on pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, or drugs in these 6 journals; by 2006, this number increased sixfold to 132 papers (Figure 1.1).
This growth can be attributed to a number of factors. The presence of pharmaceuticals in surface-water samples from Europe and the United States was documented in several sentinel papers. These ground-breaking works encouraged other scientists to examine the rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs in their regions for such chemicals. In addition, the intense public attention paid to news reports on the environmental detections of these chemicals and possible effects of aquatic life has made this issue visible to the wastewater-treatment, drinking-water treatment, and regulatory communities. This has driven the funding bodies associated with these communities to fund studies or request proposals that address the presence, fate, and effects of PPCPs in aquatic systems. The release of the first comprehensive reconnaissance of pharmaceuticals and other wastewater contaminants in the United States provides an example of the intense media interest in this topic. Within 6 days on online publication of this study, 72 newspapers across the United States had published articles describing the results, either locally written or based on international media syndicate reports. There also was substantial concurrent coverage by local and national radio and television outlets, including the Cable News Network, ABC World News Tonight, and National Public Radio. A substantial fraction of these news stories may be attributable to press releases and media briefings prior to publication. However, the interest by television and print journalists in reporting the results of a peer-reviewed journal article to the general public was motivated by the recognition that describing the presence of PPCPs in water supplies would be of interest to the public. To better convey the results of the study published by Koplin et al. to the public, a separate general-interest fact sheet was published to summarize the important points of the study. Because PPCPs are commonly and widely used by individuals, there is likely a preexisting, personal identification with these compounds that does not occur for the wide range of other organic and inorganic contaminants whose presence in the environment has previously been described. This greater public “name recognition” makes itself known through the media to the regulatory and technical community and has prompted interest in sponsoring research that defines the composition and concentrations of PPCPs in potential sources and their fate and effects following relase into the environment.
Independent of the drivers that potentially fuel the interest in studies of PPCPs, it is clear that PPCP research has grown beyond surface-water studies to examine issues such as:
• Presence in other matrices, such as groundwater, landfill leachates, sediments, and biosolids.
• Environmental transport and fate in surface water, groundwater, and soils amended with reclaimed water or biosolids.
• PPCP source elucidation, such as wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and aquaculture.
• Removal during wastewater and drinking-water treatment.
• Effects on aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems, and human health.
The chapters in this book provide an extensive examination of current environmental pharmaceutical research and are divided into three sections: “Occurrence and Analysis of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment,” “Environment Fate and Transformations of Veterinary Pharmaceuticals,” and “treatment of Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water and Wastewater.” The purpose of this introductory overview chapter is to outline current (2004-2006) knowledge about the presence and concentration of PPCPs as described in the published literature. Previous reviews should be consulted for discussions on pre-2004 publications. Those reviews will provide the reader with a comprehensive introduction to the topic of PPCPs in the environment. This chapter describes the sources of PPCPs and other organic contaminants often associated with human wastewater into the environment, the range of concentrations present in various environmental compartments, and the potential routes of removal/sequestration. An overview of the sources and fate of veterinary pharmaceuticals will be discussed in Chapter 5, “Fate and Transport of Veterinary Medicines in the Soil Environment.”

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Environmental presence and persistence of pharmaceuticals: An overview
Year Published 2008
Language English
Publisher CRC Press
Publisher location Boca Raton
Contributing office(s) Iowa Water Science Center, Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 49 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment and in water treatment systems
First page 3
Last page 51
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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