Ecological Risk Assessment of Pharmaceuticals in the Transboundary Vecht River (Germany and The Netherlands)

DJ Duarte, G Niebaum, V Lammchen, E van Heijnsbergen, R Oldenkamp, L Hernandez-Leal, H Schmitt, AMJ Ragas, J Klasmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Millions of people rely on active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to prevent and cure a wide variety of illnesses in humans and animals, which has led to a steadily increasing consumption of APIs across the globe and concurrent releases of APIs into the environment. In the environment, APIs can have a detrimental impact on wildlife, particularly aquatic wildlife. Therefore, it is essential to assess their potential adverse effects to aquatic ecosystems. The European Water Framework Directive sets out that risk assessment should be performed at the catchment level, crossing borders where needed. The present study defines ecological risk profiles for surface water concentrations of 8 APIs (carbamazepine, ciprofloxacin, cyclophosphamide, diclofenac, erythromycin, 17α-ethinylestradiol, metformin, and metoprolol) in the Vecht River, a transboundary river that crosses several German and Dutch regions. Ultimately, 3 main goals were achieved: 1) the geo-referenced estimation of API concentrations in surface water using the geography-referenced regional exposure assessment tool for European rivers; 2) the derivation of new predicted-no-effect concentrations for 7 of the studied APIs, of which 3 were lower than previously derived values; and 3) the creation of detailed spatially explicit ecological risk profiles of APIs under 2 distinct water flow scenarios. Under average flow conditions, carbamazepine, diclofenac, and 17α-ethinylestradiol were systematically estimated to surpass safe ecological concentration thresholds in at least 68% of the catchment's water volume. This increases to 98% under dry summer conditions. Environ Toxicol Chem 2022;41:648–662.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-662
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Ecological risk assessment
  • Environmental modeling
  • Geo-referenced modeling
  • Geographic information systems
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Surface water
  • Toxic effects
  • Water quality


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