Enantiomeric profiling of a chemically diverse mixture of chiral pharmaceuticals in urban water

S. Evans, J. Bagnall, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern

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55 Citations (SciVal)


Due to concerns regarding the release of pharmaceuticals into the environment and the understudied impact of stereochemistry of pharmaceuticals on their fate and biological potency, we focussed in this paper on stereoselective transformation pathways of selected chiral pharmaceuticals (16 pairs) at both microcosm (receiving waters and activated sludge wastewater treatment simulating microcosms) and macrocosm (wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) utilising activated sludge technology and receiving waters) scales in order to test the hypothesis that biodegradation of chiral drugs is stereoselective. Our monitoring programme of a full scale activated sludge WWTP and receiving environment revealed that several chiral drugs, those being marketed mostly as racemates, are present in wastewater and receiving waters enriched with one enantiomeric form (e.g. fluoxetine, mirtazapine, salbutamol, MDMA). This is most likely due to biological metabolic processes occurring in humans and other organisms. Both activated sludge and receiving waters simulating microcosms confirmed our hypothesis that chiral drugs are subject to stereoselective microbial degradation. It led, in this research, to preferential degradation of S-(+)-enantiomers of amphetamines, R-(+)-enantiomers of beta-blockers and S-(+)-enantiomers of antidepressants. In the case of three parent compound – metabolite pairs (venlafaxine – desmethylvenlafaxine, citalopram – desmethylcitalopram and MDMA - MDA), while parent compounds showed higher resistance to both microbial metabolism and photodegradation, their desmethyl metabolites showed much higher degradation rate both in terms of stereoselective metabolic and non-stereoselective photochemical processes. It is also worth noting that metabolites tend to be, as expected, enriched with enantiomers of opposite configuration to their parent compounds, which might have significant toxicological consequences when evaluating the metabolic residues of chiral pollutants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-377
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date30 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


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