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Processes of distribution of pharmaceuticals in surface freshwaters: implications for risk assessment

Bagnis, Simone, Fitzsimons, Mark F., Snape, Jason, Tappin, Alan, Comber, Sean
Environmental chemistry letters 2018 v.16 no.4 pp. 1193-1216
active pharmaceutical ingredients, aquatic environment, colloids, dissolved organic matter, drugs, environmental assessment, environmental factors, environmental fate, freshwater, ionic strength, lipophilicity, pH, risk assessment, sediments, sorbents, sorption, temperature, vapor pressure, wastewater, water solubility
The global consumption and production of pharmaceuticals is increasing concomitantly with concern regarding their environmental fate and effects. Active pharmaceutical ingredients are mainly released into the aquatic environment through wastewater effluent discharge. Once in the environment, pharmaceuticals can undergo processes of natural attenuation, i.e. dilution, sorption, transformation, depending on physico-chemical properties of the compound, such as water solubility, lipophilicity, vapour pressure, and environmental conditions, such as pH, temperature and ionic strength. A major natural attenuation process is the sorption on dissolved organic matter, colloids, suspended solids and sediments, which in turn control pharmaceuticals distribution, residence time and persistence in aquatic systems. Here we review studies of sorption capacity of natural sorbents to pharmaceuticals. These report on the importance of several environmental and sorbent-specific properties, such as the composition, quality, and amount of the sorbent, and the environmental pH, which determines the speciation of both the sorbent and compound. The importance of accounting for distribution processes on freshwater sorbents for any determination of environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals is apparent, while the reliability of surrogate standards for measuring dissolved organic matter (DOM) distribution is evaluated in the context of the need for robust environmental risk assessment protocols.