Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 399, Issue 1, pp 251-275

First online:

Pharmaceutical residues in environmental waters and wastewater: current state of knowledge and future research

  • Despo Fatta-KassinosAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, GAIA, Laboratory of Environmental Engineering, University of Cyprus Email author 
  • , Sureyya MericAffiliated withDepartment of Civil Engineering, University of Salerno
  • , Anastasia NikolaouAffiliated withFaculty of Environment, Department of Marine Sciences, University Hill, University of the Aegean

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Pollution from pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment is now recognized as an environmental concern in many countries. This has led to the creation of an extensive area of research, including among others: their chemical identification and quantification; elucidation of transformation pathways when present in wastewater-treatment plants or in environmental matrices; assessment of their potential biological effects; and development and application of advanced treatment processes for their removal and/or mineralization. Pharmaceuticals are a unique category of pollutants, because of their special characteristics, and their behavior and fate cannot be simulated with other chemical organic contaminants. Over the last decade the scientific community has embraced research in this specific field and the outcome has been immense. This was facilitated by advances in chromatographic techniques and relevant biological assays. Despite this, a number of unanswered questions exist and still there is much room for development and work towards a more solid understanding of the actual consequences of the release of pharmaceuticals in the environment. This review tries to present part of the knowledge that is currently available with regard to the occurrence of pharmaceutical residues in aquatic matrices, the progress made during the last several years on identification of such compounds down to trace levels, and of new, previously unidentified, pharmaceuticals such as illicit drugs, metabolites, and photo-products. It also tries to discuss the main recent findings in respect of the capacity of various treatment technologies to remove these contaminants and to highlight some of the adverse effects that may be related to their ubiquitous existence. Finally, socioeconomic measures that may be able to hinder the introduction of such compounds into the environment are briefly discussed.


Pharmaceuticals Water/wastewater Analysis Removal technologies Transformation by-products Adverse effects