Photochemical fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment: Naproxen, diclofenac, clofibric acid, and ibuprofen

Jennifer L. Packer, Jeffrey J. Werner, Douglas E. Latch, Kristopher McNeill, William A. Arnold

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The aqueous photochemistry of four pharmaceutical compounds detected in surface waters (naproxen, diclofenac, ibuprofen, and clofibric acid) was investigating in purified (Milli-Q) water and in Mississippi River water (MRW). Both direct photolysis and hydroxyl radical-mediated indirect photolysis (using a combination of probe and quencher experiments) were studied. Singlet oxygenation was also investigated for naproxen. Second-order rate constants for reaction with hydroxyl radical were determined using Fenton's reagent. Naproxen was rapidly transformed via direct photolysis in sunlight in both Milli-Q and MRW. The radical quencher isopropyl alcohol (IPA), had a similar effect in both systems, and this effect was interpreted as a reaction of a carboxyl radical intermediate of naproxen. Diclofenac was found to undergo rapid direct photolysis under sunlight, confirming the results of prior studies. Addition of IPA led to more rapid transformation, possibly due to formation of other radical species or photoreduction with IPA serving as the H-source. When irradiated under natural sunlight, slow direct photolysis of clofibric acid is observed in Milli-Q water, and a combination of direct photolysis and radical mediated indirect processes appear responsible for clofibric acid photolysis in MRW. The dominant photochemical loss process for ibuprofen irradiated with a medium pressure Hg-vapor lamp was identified as reaction with photo-generated radicals. These results suggest that photolytic processes are important removal mechanisms for pharmaceutical compounds discharged into sunlit surface waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)342-351
Number of pages10
JournalAquatic Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the National Institutes for Water Resources/ USGS National Water Quality Competitive Grants Pro- gram for support of this work and Kathy Lee (USGS) for helpful discussions. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers who provided valuable suggestions that greatly improved this work.


  • Clofibric acid
  • Diclofenac
  • Direct photolysis
  • Ibuprofen
  • Indirect photolysis
  • NSAIDs
  • Naproxen
  • Pharmaceutical


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