Pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment: sources, effects, treatment methods

Residues of daily usage products, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) as well as pure organic compounds, particularly endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), can migrate to surface water ecosystems from point sources, e.g. wastewater treatment plants. Although the majority of these substances are present in water at very low concentrations, they started to be considered “new” hazardous environmental pollutants. Their presence in water became an important problem in the late twentieth century, when the production of organic chemicals increased. Certain low-molecular weight organic substances present in water ecosystems at low concentrations are likely to have adverse effects on animals and humans. Even short-term exposures of aquatic organisms to EDCs, especially at early developmental stages, can induce a variety of negative physiological effects. Even though direct negative effects caused by exposure have not been demonstrated, active substances of numerous drugs can accumulate in the tissues and reach higher trophic levels. Modern high-throughput separation and detection techniques, including gas/liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry detectors (GC/LC-MS), allow detecting and quantifying trace amounts of micro-pollutants acting as EDCs in complex biosamples and technological processes, particularly during wastewater treatment. Moreover, limits of detection for many organic micro-pollutants have been determined. New measures to remove pharmaceuticals from sewage should be designed, as many treatment plants are not prepared to effectively eliminate such pollutants. The aim of the present study was to review the literature data regarding the presence of pharmaceuticals, PPCPs and EDCs in the environment (particularly aquatic) and to present the methods of sample determinations and sewage treatment. Additionally, low efficiency of traditional wastewater treatment processes was discussed.

Keywords: pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, sewage treatment

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Volume 25 (1)

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Vincent Pol University in Lublin