Medicines, shaken and stirred: a critical review on the ecotoxicology of pharmaceutical mixtures

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014 Nov 19;369(1656):20130585. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0585.


Analytical monitoring surveys routinely confirm that organisms in the environment are exposed to complex multi-component pharmaceutical mixtures. We are hence tasked with the challenge to take this into consideration when investigating the ecotoxicology of pharmaceuticals. This review first provides a brief overview of the fundamental approaches for mixture toxicity assessment, which is then followed by a critical review on the empirical evidence that is currently at hand on the ecotoxicology of pharmaceutical mixtures. It is concluded that, while the classical concepts of concentration addition and independent action (response addition) provide a robust scientific footing, several knowledge gaps remain. This includes, in particular, the need for more and better empirical data on the effects of pharmaceutical mixtures on soil organisms as well as marine flora and fauna, and exploring the quantitative consequences of toxicokinetic, toxicodynamic and ecological interactions. Increased focus should be put on investigating the ecotoxicology of pharmaceutical mixtures in environmentally realistic settings.

Keywords: concentration addition; independent action; mixture ecotoxicology; synergism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Combinations
  • Ecotoxicology*
  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / chemistry*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations