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Identification and prioritization of bioaccumulable pharmaceutical substances discharged in hospital effluents

By J. Jeana, b, Y. Perrodina, C. Pivotc, D. Trepod, M. Perraude, J. Droguetf, F. Tissot-Guerrazg, F. Locherb

Journal of Environmental Management
Volume 103, July 30, 2012, Pages 113–121

Abstract The consumption of pharmaceuticals and their excretion in wastewater is a continuous source of pollution for aquatic ecosystems. In certain cases these compounds are found in the environment at concentrations high enough to cause disturbance in aquatic organisms. Aware of this problem hospitals are giving increasing attention to the nature of their effluents and their impact on the environment, by implementing more efficient effluent management policies. This concern is justified in view of the large volumes of toxic products consumed (detergents, disinfectants, pharmaceuticals, chemical reagents, radioactive elements, etc.). Moreover, these effluents usually do not undergo any specific treatment before being discharged into urban sewage networks. In this article, we present a method for selecting the pharmaceuticals discharged in hospital effluents that have the worst impact on the aquatic ecosystem, primarily based on their bioaccumulation potential. This study focused on the pharmaceuticals consumed at the Hospices Civils de Lyon (HCL), the second largest hospital structure in France (5200 hospital beds). Of the 960 substances consumed in HCL hospitals, a shortlist of 70 substances considered as being potentially bioaccumulable was established. The use of aggravating factors of risk has then led to the final selection of 14 priority compounds. They include 4 compounds consumed in large quantities in HCL hospitals, 6 endocrine disruptors and 4 potentially ecotoxic compounds. For all these compounds, it is now advisable to verify their bioaccumulation potential experimentally and confirm their presence in the environment. In addition, in order to monitor the risk relating to possible contamination of the food chain, it will be necessary to measure accumulated dose levels in species of different trophic levels. Lastly, chronic ecotoxicity tests will permit evaluating the danger and risk that some of these substances may represent for aquatic ecosystems.


  • A method for prioritizing pharmaceuticals in hospital effluents was developed.
  • This method is based on their potential of bioaccumulation in aquatic ecosystems.
  • A first list of 70 substances potentially bioaccumulable was established.
  • Aggravating factors of risk led to the final list of 14 priority compounds.