Human pharmaceuticals in US surface waters: a human health risk assessment

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2005 Aug;42(3):296-312. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2005.05.005.


The detection of low levels of pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams, drinking water, and groundwater has raised questions as to whether these levels may affect human health. This report presents human health risk assessments for 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and/or their metabolites, representing 14 different drug classes, for which environmental monitoring data are available for the United States. Acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) are derived using the considerable data that are available for APIs. The resulting ADIs are designed to protect potentially exposed populations, including sensitive sub-populations. The ADIs are then used to estimate predicted no effect concentrations (PNECs) for two sources of potential human exposure: drinking water and fish ingestion. The PNECs are compared to measured environmental concentrations (MECs) from the published literature and to maximum predicted environmental concentrations (PECs) generated using the PhATE model. The PhATE model predictions are made under conservative assumptions of low river flow and no depletion (i.e., no metabolism, no removal during wastewater or drinking water treatment, and no instream depletion). Ratios of MECs to PNECs are typically very low and consistent with PEC to PNEC ratios. For all 26 compounds, these low ratios indicate that no appreciable human health risk exists from the presence of trace concentrations of these APIs in surface water and drinking water.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Drinking
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Eating
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Rivers
  • Seafood
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Water Supply* / analysis


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical