Database - Pharmaceuticals in the environment

World map of pills
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In the project "Pharmaceuticals in the environment - occurrence, effects and options for action" Measured Environmental Concentrations (MEC) of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals from all five UN regions were compiled in a database. This database can be downloaded here.

Pharmaceuticals are known to occur widely in the aquatic environment of industrialized countries. In developing and emerging countries, information on the occurrence of pharmaceuticals in the environment has become more readily available in recent years. However, a concise picture on the relevant pharmaceutical, their prevailing concentrations in the environment, and their potential effects on human and ecosystem health is still elusive in these countries.

The database
In a comprehensive literature review of 1016 original publications and 150 review articles, we compiled measured environmental concentrations  of human and veterinary pharmaceutical residues reported worldwide in surface water, groundwater, tap/drinking water, manure, soil, and other environmental matrices in a systematic database. As result, 123,761 database entries have been made, whereas pharmaceuticals or their transformation products have been detected in the environment of 71 countries covering all five UN regions. In total, 631 different pharmaceuticals have been found above the detection limits of the analytical methods employed, revealing regional patterns. 17 substances have been detected in all five UN regions.

Reported data was transferred from each publication, report, and other data sources to the new database (MEC database), which is organized in a Microsoft Access© environment. Each database entry comprises 32 fields, including the name of the pharmaceutical substance, its CAS number, the environmental matrix the substance was measured in, geographical location, sampling period, number of measurements, measured concentration in original and standardized units, detection limit of the analytical method employed, pollution source (if stated in publication), literature citation, publication language and type, and quality flag.

Regarding the environmental matrices investigated, surface water, riverbank filtration, groundwater, well water, tap/drinking water, sewage and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) streams, WWTP sludge, manure, soil, sediments, suspended particulate matter, and other environmental matrices were distinguished with multiple sub-categories. No differentiation was made between tap water and drinking water, because the distinction between countries in which tap water is drinking water and others in which tap water is not suitable or not commonly used for drinking was not always clear in several publications.

The geographical sampling location (including geographical name, region, and country) were categorized according to the United Nations regional group (Africa Group; Asia-Pacific group; Eastern Europe group (EEG); group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC); Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG), including North America, Australia, and New Zealand).

Data aggregation
Most publication reports aggregated MEC data of a specific number of measurements (e.g., average, median, 90th percentile, minimum or maximum of a monitoring campaign), rather than single observations. Aggregated data was compiled in one database entry stating the statistical type and the number of underlying measurements. Since the statistical distribution of the aggregated data is rarely known, only database entries reporting single or average values were considered in deriving weighted national average concentrations. National maximum concentrations were assigned the highest concentrations reported for a specific environmental matrix in each country.

Quality assessment
A quality flag of each database entry refers to the reliability, plausibility, and analytical standards applied in each publication. Since the quality assessment of a publication is difficult to measure and thus a matter of subjectivity, the quality flag serves as an indicator only. Generally, peer-reviewed publications have been considered verified sources of high quality. The quality of other publications including university theses is difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, even though some of the methods and results published in these theses are difficult to verify, the majority of publications received a good quality flag.