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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Canadian Environment: Research and Policy Directions

3.1 Environmental Exposure and Monitoring Activities

Determining exposure of environmental ecosystems to PPCPs requires analytical methods to quantify concentrations in environmental matrices and sufficient monitoring data, in terms of compounds, matrices, and geographic locations, to determine the extent and relative severity of exposure. Analytical methods have expanded considerably in the past five years, both in sensitivity and accuracy and in the numbers of compounds and matrices for which methods have been developed. National monitoring programs have been expanded to include PPCPs to gain a better understanding of their distribution and persistence. However these activities are far from mature. The presentations about the current state of environmental and monitoring activities provided background information to guide discussions on future needs and priorities in this area.

Dr. Mark Servos, Scientific Director of the Canadian Water Network, spoke about the presence of PPCPs in the Canadian environment, the progress that has been made since the 2002 workshop, and his recommendations for future research directions.

Over the last five years there has been considerable effort across Canada to address the environmental exposure of PPCPs. This group of emerging chemicals of concern have become of interest because of developments in analytical chemistry, identification of potential subtle effects at very low concentrations and the recognition of their potential to be widespread environmental contaminants. Many acidic and neutral pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and personal care products (such as synthetic musk fragrances) are widespread in Canadian municipal treatment plant effluents, surface waters and drinking water. In addition, many veterinary medicines and animal care products have been detected in agricultural watersheds. Treatment processes have an impact on removal of most PPCPs in both wastewater and drinking water, but many compounds such as carbamazepine, are extremely persistent and have been found in finished water and wastewaters. Advanced oxidation (e.g. ozone) and filtration (nanofiltration) are capable of removing many of these compounds but are not widely applied. In pilot scale and full scale studies there is evidence that advanced treatment can remove or reduce many of these compounds. Despite considerable efforts the potential risk and significance of these compounds in the environment has not been fully addressed.

Sean Backus of the Ontario Water Quality Monitoring Section of Environment Canada, provided an overview of Environment Canada’s monitoring activities for PPCPs in the environment.

Environment Canada, through its Science and Technology Branch, conducts science activities to provide high-quality knowledge, information and data that enable decision makers to enhance the health and safety of Canadians, protect the quality of the natural environment, and advance Canada’s long-term competitiveness.

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs), a large class of organic chemicals, have been designated as emerging contaminants because they are disposed or discharged to the environment on a continual basis from domestic and industrial wastewater including septic tank wastewater, landfills, and wet weather runoff.

The Department conducts a variety of environmental studies pertaining to PPCPs. They include science and risk assessments under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), including the NSNR; strategic science and technology planning and priority setting; atmospheric process studies; wildlife and landscape studies; and water quality monitoring and research.

Given that the main routes of entry to the environment of PPCPs are wastewater and domestic wastes such as municipal waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) and septic fields, disposal via municipal refuse in landfills that leach to groundwater, and storm water overflow from residential sources much of the science conducted by the Department has occurred with respect to water quality monitoring and research. This has included surveillance studies on the distribution of acidic and neutral pharmaceuticals and veterinary drugs in the Great Lakes Basin, the Fraser River Basin, prairie watersheds, fluvial systems (St. Lawrence River) and in marine/coastal watersheds of Eastern Canada. Scientific studies have also investigated the fate and effects of WWTP effluents using gene expression in fish, environmental transport and persistence of antibiotics in swine production, effects of antibiotics on algae and bacteria in prairie wetlands, reproductive health of fish downstream of WWTPs, effects of selected PPCPs on Hyalella azteca and lifecycle exposures using fathead minnows, to name a few. Future work and challenges will be to continue to develop an integrated environmental monitoring and predictive capability to address the issue of PPCPs in the environment.

Dr. Chris Metcalfe, a professor in Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University, spoke about the current state of analytical methods for PPCPs in environmental matrices.

PPCPs that are not rapidly degraded in WWTPs may remain dissolved in the aqueous phase of wastewater effluents, or they may bind to biosolids. The most direct route of release of PPCPs into the environment is through the discharge of WWTP effluents into surface waters. Biosolids containing PPCPs may be placed in landfills or spread on agricultural land for soil amendment, where these compounds may be transported by runoff into the surrounding surface water or may leach into underlying groundwater. The most widely used method for analyzing PPCPs in environmental matrices is liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). However, there are several analytical challenges associated with the use of LC-MS/MS instrumentation, including “matrix effects” that either reduce or enhance the signal as a result of co-extractives in the sample matrix. The electrospray (ESI) ion source is susceptible to ion suppression and our recent studies have shown that atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (i.e. APCI) is most susceptible to signal enhancement. Analytical solutions to these challenges include effective clean-up of extracts, use of low injection volumes, and calibration using “standard additions” methods or stable isotope surrogates. These methods have been applied to the analysis of PPCPs in complex environmental matrices, including the analysis of serotonin reuptake inhibitors in fish tissues and the analysis of beta-blocker drugs in both municipal wastewater and biosolids.