Ecotoxicity of disinfectant benzalkonium chloride and its mixture with antineoplastic drug 5-fluorouracil towards alga Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata

PeerJ. 2018 Jun 18;6:e4986. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4986. eCollection 2018.


Background: Benzalkonium chloride (BAC) is one of the most common ingredients of the disinfectants. It is commonly detected in surface and wastewaters where it can interact with the residues of pharmaceuticals that are also common wastewater pollutants. Among the latter, the residues of antineoplastic drugs are of particular concern as recent studies showed that they can induce adverse effect in aquatic organisms at environmentally relevant concentrations.

Methods: Ecotoxicity of BAC as an individual compound and in a binary mixture with an antineoplastic drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) was determined towards alga Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata, a representative of primary producers. The toxicity of the BAC+5-FU binary mixture was predicted by the two basic models: concentration addition (CA) and independent action (IA), and compared to the experimentally determined toxicity. Additionally combination index (CI) was calculated to determine the type of interaction.

Results: After 72 h exposure to BAC a concentration dependent growth inhibition of P. subcapitata was observed with an EC50 0.255 mg/L. Comparing the predicted no effect concentration to the measured concentrations in the surface waters indicate that BAC at current applications and occurrence in aquatic environment may affect algal populations. The measured toxicity of the mixture was higher from the predicted and calculated CI confirmed synergistic effect on the inhibition of algal growth, at least at EC50 concentration. The observed synergism may have impact on the overall toxicity of wastewaters, whereas it is less likely for general environments because the concentrations of 5-FU are several orders of magnitude lower from its predicted no effect concentration.

Discussion: These results indicate that combined effects of mixtures of disinfectants and antineoplastic drugs should be considered in particular when dealing with environmental risk assessment as well as the management of municipal and hospital wastewaters.

Keywords: 5-fluorouracil; Algae; Benzalkonium chloride; Ecotoxicity; Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata; Synergistic inhibition.

Grant support

This study received funding from the Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement No 265264 (CytoThreat) and by Slovenian Research Agency: the research core funding P1-0254. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.