, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 106-116
Date: 18 Oct 2008

Part V—sorption of pharmaceuticals and personal care products

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Background, aim, and scope

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) including antibiotics, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and veterinary pharmaceuticals are emerging pollutants, and their environmental risk was not emphasized until a decade ago. These compounds have been reported to cause adverse impacts on wildlife and human. However, compared to the studies on hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) whose sorption characteristics is reviewed in Part IV of this review series, information on PPCPs is very limited. Thus, a summary of recent research progress on PPCP sorption in soils or sediments is necessary to clarify research requirements and directions.

Main features

We reviewed the research progress on PPCP sorption in soils or sediments highlighting PPCP sorption different from that of HOCs. Special function of humic substances (HSs) on PPCP behavior is summarized according to several features of PPCP–soil or sediment interaction. In addition, we discussed the behavior of xenobiotic chemicals in a three-phase system (dissolved organic matter (DOM)–mineral–water). The complexity of three-phase systems was also discussed.


Nonideal sorption of PPCPs in soils or sediments is generally reported, and PPCP sorption behavior is relatively a more complicated process compared to HOC sorption, such as the contribution of inorganic fractions, fast degradation and metabolite sorption, and species-specific sorption mechanism. Thus, mechanistic studies are urgently needed for a better understanding of their environmental risk and for pollution control.


Recent research progress on nonideal sorption has not been incorporated into fate modeling of xenobiotic chemicals. A major reason is the complexity of the three-phase system. First of all, lack of knowledge in describing DOM fractionation after adsorption by mineral particles is one of the major restrictions for an accurate prediction of xenobiotic chemical behavior in the presence of DOM. Secondly, no explicit mathematical relationship between HS chemical–physical properties, and their sorption characteristics has been proposed. Last but not least, nonlinear interactions could exponentially increase the complexity and uncertainties of environmental fate models for xenobiotics. Discussion on proper simplification of fate modeling in the framework of nonlinear interactions is still unavailable.


Although the methodologies and concepts for studying HOC environmental fate could be adopted for PPCP study, their differences should be highly understood. Prediction of PPCP environmental behavior needs to combine contributions from various fractions of soils or sediments and the sorption of their metabolites and different species.

Recommendations and perspectives

More detailed studies on PPCP sorption in separated soil or sediment fractions are needed in order to propose a model predicting PPCP sorption in soils or sediments based on soil or sediment properties. The information on sorption of PPCP metabolites and species and the competition between them is still not enough to be incorporated into any predictive models.

Responsible editor Christian Steinberg