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Research article2018Peer reviewed

Using laboratory incubations to predict the fate of pharmaceuticals in aquatic ecosystems

Fahlman, Johan; Fick, Jerker; Karlsson, Jan; Jonsson, Micael; Brodin, Tomas; Klaminder, Jonatan


Environmental contextEnvironmental persistence of excreted pharmaceuticals in aquatic ecosystems is usually predicted using small-scale laboratory experiments assumed to simulate natural conditions. We studied five pharmaceuticals comparing their removal rates from water under laboratory conditions and under natural environmental conditions existing in a large pond. We found that the laboratory conditions did not fully capture the complexity within the pond, which led to different removal rates in the two systems. AbstractEnvironmental persistence is a key property when evaluating risks with excreted pharmaceuticals in aquatic ecosystems. Such persistence is typically predicted using small-scale laboratory incubations, but the variation in aquatic environments and scarcity of field studies to verify laboratory-based persistence estimates create uncertainties around the predictive power of these incubations. In this study we: (1) assess the persistence of five pharmaceuticals (diclofenac, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, trimethoprim and oxazepam) in laboratory experiments under different environmental conditions; and (2) use a three-month-long field study in an aquatic ecosystem to verify the laboratory-based persistence estimates. In our laboratory assays, we found that water temperature (TEMP), concentrations of organic solutes (TOC), presence of sediment (SED), and solar radiation (SOL) individually affected dissipation rates. Moreover, we identified rarely studied interaction effects between the treatments (i.e. SOLxSED and TEMPxSOL), which affected the persistence of the studied drugs. Half-lives obtained from the laboratory assays largely explained the dissipation rates during the first week of the field study. However, none of the applied models could accurately predict the long-term dissipation rates (month time-scale) from the water column. For example, the studied antibioticum (trimethoprim) and the anti-anxiety drug (oxazepam) remained at detectable levels in the aquatic environment long after (similar to 150 days) our laboratory based models predicted complete dissipation. We conclude that small-scale laboratory incubations seem sufficient to approximate the short-term (i.e. within a week) dissipation rate of drugs in aquatic ecosystems. However, this simplistic approach does not capture interacting environmental processes that preserve a fraction of the dissolved pharmaceuticals for months in natural water bodies.


antibiotics; antidepressant; anxiolytics; antihistamines; degradation

Published in

Environmental Chemistry
2018, Volume: 15, number: 8, pages: 463-471

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG14 Life below water

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources

    Publication identifier


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