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Review
, 47 (2), 661-77

Global Synthesis and Critical Evaluation of Pharmaceutical Data Sets Collected From River Systems

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Review

Global Synthesis and Critical Evaluation of Pharmaceutical Data Sets Collected From River Systems

Stephen R Hughes et al. Environ Sci Technol.

Abstract

Pharmaceuticals have emerged as a major group of environmental contaminants over the past decade but relatively little is known about their occurrence in freshwaters compared to other pollutants. We present a global-scale analysis of the presence of 203 pharmaceuticals across 41 countries and show that contamination is extensive due to widespread consumption and subsequent disposal to rivers. There are clear regional biases in current understanding with little work outside North America, Europe, and China, and no work within Africa. Within individual countries, research is biased around a small number of populated provinces/states and the majority of research effort has focused upon just 14 compounds. Most research has adopted sampling techniques that are unlikely to provide reliable and representative data. This analysis highlights locations where concentrations of antibiotics, cardiovascular drugs, painkillers, contrast media, and antiepileptic drugs have been recorded well above thresholds known to cause toxic effects in aquatic biota. Studies of pharmaceutical occurrence and effects need to be seen as a global research priority due to increasing consumption, particularly among societies with aging populations. Researchers in all fields of environmental management need to work together more effectively to identify high risk compounds, improve the reliability and coverage of future monitoring studies, and develop new mitigation measures.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Number of publications per year for the 236 published studies included in the database shows a rapid increase after 2003.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Global-scale distribution of the number of published studies identifying pharmaceuticals in inland surface waters.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Number of published studies detecting at least one pharmaceutical compound in (a) European regions, (b) North American states, and (c) south Asian provinces.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Relative frequency of detection and median concentration of pharmaceuticals in receiving waters: (a) global, (b) Europe, (c) North America, and (d) Asia. (The circumference of each fan is scaled by the relative proportion of detections. Each point outward on the radial axis represents 10y of the median concentration in ng L–1. For example, the innermost circle represents 101 ng L–1; the second represents 102 ng L–1, etc.)
Figure 5
Figure 5
Comparison of national averages of pharmaceuticals to the global average for (a) the 1st to 5th and (b) the 6th to 10th top countries (as determined by number of entries in the database; represented by the number in brackets. Global mean is the mean concentration for all records of that compound group). (Values exceeding 200% of global mean: Spain (blood lipid regulators 441%, other cardiovascular drugs 213%, painkillers 209%), Germany (antidepressants 246%), South Korea (other cardiovascular drugs 404%)).
Figure 6
Figure 6
Boxplots of the 20 most commonly encountered pharmaceuticals in (a) European, (b) North American, and (c) Asian receiving waters. n values represent total number of records for the respective region and values above the x axes represent records for each of the 20 specific compounds. (Boxes represent interquartile ranges with median concentration represented by the horizontal line. Whiskers show the range of data and asterisks represent outliers).
Figure 7
Figure 7
Pie chart summarizing sampling methodologies employed in detection of pharmaceutical compound(s) in rivers. (n = number of records in the database; POCIS = polar organic contaminant integrative sampler).
Figure 8
Figure 8
Summary of chronic ecotoxicological data for pharmaceuticals and freshwater organisms across (a) antibiotics, (b) antidepressants, (c) blood lipid regulators, (d) other cardiovascular drugs, (e) others, and (f) painkillers; data summarized from refs (, , , and 177).

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