Stereoisomeric profiling of chiral pharmaceutically active compounds in wastewaters and the receiving environment – A catchment-scale and a laboratory study

Dolores Camacho-Muñoz, Bruce Petrie, Luigi Lopardo, Kathryn Proctor, Jack Rice, Jane Youdan, Ruth Barden, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern

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25 Citations (SciVal)


Chiral pharmaceutically active compounds (cPACs) are not currently governed by environmental regulation yet are expected to be in the future. As cPACs can exert stereospecific toxicity in the aquatic environment, it is essential to better understand their stereoselective behaviour here. Therefore, this study aims to provide a new perspective towards comprehensive evaluation of cPACs at a river catchment level, including their stereochemistry as a chemical phenomenon driving fate of chiral molecules in the environment. A large spatial and temporal monitoring program was performed in Southwest England. It included 5 sewage treatment works and the receiving waters of the largest river catchment in Southwest England. Simultaneously, lab-scale microcosm studies in simulated activated sludge bioreactors and river water microcosm were performed to evaluate stereoselective degradation of cPACs. A multi-residue enantioselective method allowed the analysis of a total of 18 pairs of enantiomers and 3 single enantiomers in wastewater and river water samples. Our monitoring program revealed: (1) spatial and temporal variations of cPACs in influent wastewaters resulting from different patterns of usage as well as an (2) enantiomeric enrichment of cPACs, likely due to human metabolism, despite their commercialization as racemic mixtures. A similar chiral signature was observed in effluent and receiving waters. Stereoselective degradation was observed in trickling filters (TF) for naproxen, ketoprofen, cetirizine and 10,11-dihydroxy-10-hydroxycarbamazepine, in sequencing batch reactors (SBR) for ifosfamide and in activated sludge (AS) for cetirizine. The extent of enantiomer-specific fate was wastewater treatment dependent in the case of naproxen (TF showed higher stereoselectivity than AS and SBR) and cetirizine (TF and AS showed higher stereoselectivity than SBR) due to differing microbial population. Furthermore, stereoselective degradation of naproxen was highly variable among STWs using similar treatments (TF) and operating in the same region. Microbial stereoselective degradation was also confirmed by both activated and river water simulated microcosm for chloramphenicol, ketoprofen, indoprofen, naproxen and 10,11-dihydroxy-10-hydroxycarbamazepine. Results from our large scale river catchment monitoring study and lab simulated microcosm show wide-ranging implications of enantiomerism of cPACs on environmental risk assessment (ERA). As two enantiomers of the same compound show different biological effects (e.g. toxicity), their non-racemic presence in the environment might lead to inaccurate ERA. This is because current ERA approaches do not require analysis at enantiomeric level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-572
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date11 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Activated sludge
  • Chiral
  • Enantioselectivity
  • Microcosm
  • River water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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