Issue Date: December 15, 2008
Drugs In The Environment
WE ALL USE pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and can’t live without them, but unfortunately they are increasingly being recognized as micropollutants—pollutants that exist in trace or very small concentrations in the environment.
The initial interest in PPCPs and their deleterious effects on the environment was noted as early as the 1960s (J. Water Pollut. Control Federation 1965, 37, 1506), but it was not until the appearance of a widely read review (J. Pharm. Pharmacol. 1985, 37, 1) that the problem began to arouse further concern, with most studies focusing on the presence of these compounds in aquatic systems. In Pharma-Ecology: The Occurrence and Fate of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment author Patrick K. Jjemba, since 2006 an analyst for environmental stewardship at American Water, Delran, N.J., makes the case for their potential negative effects once they get into the environment, a problem that he has addressed during much of his career. Pharma-ecology is a term he coined to refer to research aimed at studying and minimizing the deleterious effects of PPCPs on the environment.
The author cites numerous examples of antihypertensive drugs such as Cartia; statins such as Zocor and Crestor; anti-inflammatory drugs including naproxen and ibuprofen; the analgesic codeine; the antidiabetic drug metformin; anticancer drugs; a wide range of antibiotics; mestranol, a birth control hormone; and sedatives such as diazepam that have been detected in wastewater, surface water, sediments, groundwater, and, in some instances, potable water. Fragrance and perfume ingredients such as HHCB (1,3,4,6,7,8-hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8-hexamethylcyclopenta-γ-2-benzopyran), AHTN (7-acetyl-1,1,3,4,4,6-hexamethyl1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphthalene), acetophenone, and camphor have also been detected accumulating in terrestrial birds, fish, eel, mussels, and sharks.
Jjemba cites work (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2005, 39, 3430) in which a porpoise fetus contained 26 ng of HHCB per g dry weight, which suggests transplacental transfer of this compound. He also cites evidence of statins in potable water causing some birth defects (N. Engl. J. Med. 2003, 349, 2556) and some antihypertensive drugs in potable water affecting glucose and insulin metabolism (Circulation 2000, 102, 1802) as reasons for concern about these drugs showing up in the environment.
PPCPs are currently designed and used to target our individual ailments with little thought about their effects on the ecosystem. While he was a research assistant at the University of Cincinnati (2001–06), Jjemba conceived of this book when he realized the need to forge linkages between health and environmental scientists concerning the occurrence and fate of PPCPs in the environment. Medical professionals have tended to neglect this problem since their primary training has been to treat disease rather than to worry about their treatment’s environmental aftermaths.
JJEMBA HAS ORGANIZED his book with the awareness that the subject matter and hence the readership will come from different training backgrounds. He focuses on the different types of compounds based on common uses such as antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock management. And he looks at personal care products such as perfumes, aftershaves, soaps, detergents, sprays, deodorants, cleaning agents, and disinfectants, and the problems they pose.
He highlights our insatiable appetite for pharmaceuticals fueled by persistent advertising and marketing. Little thought, he writes, is given to fundamental questions such as how much of the active ingredient is actually needed to cure the ailment and, more important, what happens to the excess.
We have blindly embraced every PPCP coming onto the market without considering its direct and indirect effects on the ecosystem, Jjemba warns. For example, he contends that we need a better understanding of the risks involved and possibly to minimize or even substitute the riskiest substances with alternatives that may have equal or even better efficacy but with less contamination to the environment. He draws parallels with the unchecked, widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers until seminal books such as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962) documented their deleterious effects on the environment. DDT, one of the first and best-known synthetic pesticides, virtually eliminated malaria and similar insect-borne diseases, but its adverse impact on wildlife gave rise to the modern environmental movement. He makes the case that PPCPs are not very different from agrochemicals even though the two types of compounds are not identical.
The book describes the use of instrumentation and bioassays for detection of PPCPs in aquatic systems, sediments, soil, and aerial environments. It discusses the complexities of detecting these compounds, such as the fact that the values obtained can vary greatly depending on which analytical method is used. For example, it cites work by K. Kumar et al. (J. Environ. Qual. 2004, 33, 250) that shows a 16.2-34.1% difference between the concentration of chlorotetracycline detected in the same set of environmental samples using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The concentrations of individual pharmaceutical compounds present in the environment are probably not large in themselves, but their continual use and our failure to remove them effectively may lead to sustained concentrations and promote subtle effects on nontarget organisms, Jjemba writes.
Jjemba draws links between the medical and environmental science communities. He begins with terminology to emphasize that some basic concepts familiar to the former group can be applied, with some modifications, to the latter so as to understand the persistence and degradation of PPCPs in the environment. Specifically, he relates pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, which are the backbone of drug research and development and focus on the distribution, absorption, and metabolism in subjects, as somewhat analogous to the mobility, sorption, and biodegradation of PPCPs in the environment. The mere detection of PPCPs in the environment, which has been greatly advanced by continual improvements in analytical techniques and has received considerable attention in other books, may be insufficient for addressing their ecological effects in the environment.
The previous lack of interest in recognizing the toxic potential of PPCPs in the environment can be puzzling but excusable since most of their effects are subtle and difficult to detect, the author notes. He discusses the ecological aspects and range of approaches used to assess the risks from PPCPs in the environment, which he presents by looking at a range of organisms from microbes to more complex forms of life. He also deals with the engineering of and treatments for minimizing the impact of PPCPs on the environment. Jjemba concludes his book by discussing some general needs for the future to enhance our understanding of the biological implications of the subject as well as strategies to minimize the impact of PPCPs on the environment.
THE 697 REFERENCES to articles, books, dissertations, and Internet websites, some as recent as 2007, are arranged alphabetically at the back of this cutting-edge book, which includes numerous figures, tables, charts, diagrams, and structural formulas.
I am pleased to recommend most heartily Jjemba’s unique, valuable reference source to a broad audience of ecologists, engineers, microbiologists, pharmacists, toxicologists, chemists, physicians, and veterinarians involved in pollution and environmental analysis as well as workers in agriculture and health care. Policymakers and professionals in federal and state regulatory agencies will also find it useful. It may also serve as a textbook or as supplementary reading for undergraduate and graduate students in related fields. And because we all use PPCPs daily, the general public may also be interested in the book.
In view of the wide range of these apparently diverse disciplines represented by the intended readership, Jjemba admits that “not all questions and suspicions about the impact of PPCPs in the environment will be exhaustively answered in this book. Individual readers may be dissatisfied with the level of coverage of one aspect or another, particularly aspects that directly relate to their respective discipline. However, it is my sincere hope that such dissatisfaction can ultimately be used to inform the other stakeholders of differing fields, a trend that will truly serve the original purpose of this book, which is to collectively and critically examine the issue of PPCP micropollutants and how best to minimize their impact on the environment.”
He has eminently succeeded in achieving his goal.
George B. Kauffman, professor emeritus of chemistry at California State University, Fresno, is the recipient of numerous awards, including several from ACS—the Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach.
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