Toxicological relevance of pharmaceuticals in drinking water

Gretchen M. Bruce, Richard C. Pleus, Shane A. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Interest in the public health significance of trace levels of pharmaceuticals in potable water is increasing, particularly with regard to the effects of long-term, low-dose exposures. To assess health risks and establish target concentrations for water treatment, human health risk-based screening levels for 15 pharmaceutically active ingredients and four metabolites were compared to concentrations detected at 19 drinking water treatment plants across the United States. Compounds were selected based on rate of use, likelihood of occurrence, and potential for toxicity. Screening levels were established based on animal toxicity data and adverse effects at therapeutic doses, focusing largely on reproductive and developmental toxicity and carcinogenicity. Calculated drinking water equivalent levels (DWELs) ranged from 0.49 μg/L (risperidone) to 20,000 μg/L (naproxen). None of the 10 detected compounds exceeded their DWEL. Ratios of DWELs to maximum detected concentrations ranged from 110 (phenytoin) to 6,000,000 (sulfamethoxazole). Based on this evaluation, adverse health effects from targeted pharmaceuticals occurring in U.S. drinking water are not expected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5619-5626
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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