Effluent from bulk drug production is toxic to aquatic vertebrates

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2009 Dec;28(12):2656-62. doi: 10.1897/08-524.1. Epub 2009 Feb 6.


Very high levels of a range of pharmaceuticals have been reported recently in the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant near Hyderabad, India. The plant serves approximately 90 manufacturers of bulk drugs that primarily are exported to the world market. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics were found at levels that are highly toxic to various microorganisms. Even though milligram-per-liter levels of drugs targeting human proteins also have been found, it is difficult to conclude whether these levels are sufficiently high to adversely affect fish or amphibians due to the lack of relevant chronic toxicity data for most human pharmaceuticals. To assess potential effects on aquatic vertebrates, tadpoles of Xenopus tropicalis were exposed to three dilutions of effluent (0.2, 0.6, and 2%) over 14 d, starting at developmental stage 51. Additionally, newly fertilized zebrafish (Danio rerio) were exposed to diluted effluent in 96-well plates for up to 144 h postfertilization (hpf). The tadpoles' body lengths, weights, and developmental stages were recorded, whereas a larger number of sublethal and lethal endpoints were studied in the zebrafish. A 40% reduced growth of the exposed tadpoles was demonstrated at the lowest tested effluent concentration (0.2%), indicating potent constituents in the effluent that can adversely affect aquatic vertebrates. The median lethal concentration (LC50) for zebrafish at 144 hpf was between 2.7 and 8.1% in different experiments. Reduced spontaneous movements, pigmentation, and heart rate were recorded within 48 hpf at 8 and 16% effluent concentrations. Treated effluent from a plant that serves as an important link in the global supply chain for bulk drugs is thus shown to cause adverse effects to aquatic vertebrates even at very high dilutions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Drug Industry*
  • Fluoroquinolones / toxicity
  • Industrial Waste*
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Zebrafish / embryology


  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Industrial Waste
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical