Prioritizing environmental risk of prescription pharmaceuticals.
ABSTRACT Low levels of pharmaceutical compounds have been detected in aquatic environments worldwide, but their human and ecological health risks associated with low dose environmental exposure is largely unknown due to the large number of these compounds and a lack of information. Therefore prioritization and ranking methods are needed for screening target compounds for research and risk assessment. Previous efforts to rank pharmaceutical compounds have often focused on occurrence data and have paid less attention to removal mechanisms such as human metabolism. This study proposes a simple prioritization approach based on number of prescriptions and toxicity information, accounting for metabolism and wastewater treatment removal, and can be applied to unmeasured compounds. The approach was performed on the 200 most-prescribed drugs in the US in 2009. Our results showed that under-studied compounds such as levothyroxine and montelukast sodium received the highest scores, suggesting the importance of removal mechanisms in influencing the ranking, and the need for future environmental research to include other less-studied but potentially harmful pharmaceutical compounds.