Environment International ( IF 7.577 ) Pub Date : 2020-07-31 , DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.106004 Eddie Fonseca; Félix Hernández; María Ibáñez; Andreu Rico; Elena Pitarch; Lubertus Bijlsma
Pharmaceuticals are biologically active molecules that may exert toxic effects to a wide range of aquatic organisms. They are considered contaminants of emerging concern due to their common presence in wastewaters and in the receiving surface waters, and the lack of specific regulations to monitor their environmental occurrence and risks. In this work, the environmental exposure and risks of pharmaceuticals have been studied in the Mijares River, Eastern Mediterranean coast (Spain). A total of 57 surface water samples from 19 sampling points were collected in three monitoring campaigns between June 2018 and February 2019. A list of 40 compounds was investigated using a quantitative target UHPLC-MS/MS method. In order to complement the data obtained, a wide-scope screening of pharmaceuticals and metabolites was also performed by UHPLC-HRMS. The ecological risks posed by the pharmaceutical mixtures were evaluated using species sensitivity distributions built with chronic toxicity data for aquatic organisms. In this study, up to 69 pharmaceuticals and 9 metabolites were identified, out of which 35 compounds were assessed using the quantitative method. The highest concentrations in water corresponded to acetaminophen, gabapentin, venlafaxine, valsartan, ciprofloxacin and diclofenac. The compounds that were found to exert the highest toxic pressure on the aquatic ecosystems were principally analgesic/anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. These were: phenazone > azithromycin > diclofenac, and to a lower extent norfloxacin > ciprofloxacin > clarithromycin. The monitored pharmaceutical mixtures are expected to exert severe ecological risks in areas downstream of WWTP discharges, with the percentage of aquatic species affected ranging between 65% and 82% in 3 out of the 19 evaluated sites. In addition, five antibiotics were found to exceed antibiotic resistance thresholds, thus potentially contributing to resistance gene enrichment in environmental bacteria. This work illustrates the wide use and impact of pharmaceuticals in the area under study, and the vulnerability of surface waters if only conventional wastewater treatments are applied. Several compounds included in this study should be incorporated in future water monitoring programs to help in the development of future regulations, due to their potential risk to the aquatic environment.