Photodegradation of sulfonamides and their N (4)-acetylated metabolites in water by simulated sunlight irradiation: kinetics and identification of photoproducts

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2013 Dec;20(12):8934-46. doi: 10.1007/s11356-013-1836-1. Epub 2013 Jun 8.


Once released into the aquatic environment, pharmaceuticals may undergo different degradation processes. Photodegradation, for example, might be an important elimination process for light-sensitive pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics. In this study, the fate of sulfonamides (sulfamethazine, sulfadiazine, and sulfamethoxazole) and their N (4)-acetylated metabolites (N (4)-acetylsulfadiazine, N (4)-acetylsulfamethazine, and N (4)-acetylsulfamethoxazole) under simulated sunlight irradiation was investigated. The irradiation resulted in total or almost total degradation (88 to 98 %) of the pharmaceuticals tested, except for sulfamethazine (52 %), during 24 h of irradiation. The photoproducts of all investigated pharmaceuticals have been analyzed using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry. Structure elucidation performed from photodegradation products of both, sulfonamides and their N (4)-acetylated metabolites, clearly showed two major formation pathways. These were cleavage of the sulfonamide bond as well as SO2 extrusion. In total, nine photoproducts were elucidated. Among these photoproducts, the tautomers of sulfamethoxazole and desulfonated products of sulfadiazine and sulfamethazine were also present. Tautomers of sulfadiazine and sulfamethazine have been characterized here for the first time as well as some photoproducts of sulfadiazine, sulfametoxazole, and their metabolites N (4)-acetylsulfadiazine and N (4)-acetylsulfametoxazole. The obtained results are an important piece in the complex puzzle for assessing the environmental fate of sulfonamides and their metabolites in the environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Chemical
  • Photolysis
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Sulfonamides / analysis
  • Sulfonamides / chemistry*
  • Sunlight
  • Water / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*


  • Sulfonamides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water