Medicating the coast in a metropolitan city: Enantiomeric profiles and joint probabilistic risk assessment of antidepressants and antihistamines

Rongben Wu, Esther Yan yin Sin, Kai Zhang, Shaopeng Xu, Yuefei Ruan, Yim Ling Mak, Ying kit Yung, Sunny Wai choi Sun, Rong Yang, Paul K.S. Lam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Pharmaceuticals are receiving increasing attention as emerging contaminants in the aquatic environment. Herein, we investigated the occurrence of 11 antidepressants, 6 antihistamines and 4 metabolites in treated wastewater effluents, rivers, stormwater, and seawater in Hong Kong, with special focus on chirality. The average levels of ∑pharmaceuticals ranged from 0.525 to 1070 ng/L in all samples and the total annual mass load of target pharmaceuticals in the marine environment of Hong Kong was 756 kg/y. Antihistamines accounted for >80 % of ∑pharmaceuticals, with diphenhydramine and fexofenadine being predominant. The occurrence and enantiomeric profiles of brompheniramine and promethazine sulfoxide were reported in global natural waters for the first time. Among chiral pharmaceuticals, mirtazapine and fexofenadine exhibited R-preference, while others mostly exhibited S-preference, implying that the ecological risks derived from achiral data for chiral pharmaceuticals may be biased. The joint probabilistic risk assessment of fluoxetine revealed that R-fluoxetine and rac-fluoxetine presented different ecological risks from that of S-fluoxetine; Such assessment also revealed that target pharmaceuticals posed only minimal to low risks, except that diphenhydramine posed an intermediate risk. As estimated, 10 % aquatic species will be affected when the environmental level of diphenhydramine exceeds 7.40 ng/L, which was seen in 46.9 % samples. Collectively, this study highlights further investigations on the enantioselectivity of chiral pharmaceuticals, particularly on environmental behavior and ecotoxicity using local aquatic species as target organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108434
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Chiral
  • Fluoxetine
  • Joint probabilistic curve
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Stormwater
  • Urban water system


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