Photodegradation of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment: A review

Anne L. Boreen, William A. Arnold, Kristopher McNeill

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

378 Scopus citations


A review with 310 references. Photochemical degradation is likely to be an important loss mechanism for many pharmaceutical pollutants in surface waters. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the photochemical behavior of pharmaceuticals and highlights the use of the fundamental photochemistry and phototoxicity literature to help understand and predict the aquatic fate of pharmaceuticals. Naproxen and diclofenac are shown to exemplify the idea that photochemical behavior obtained from fundamental photochemistry studies can be related to environmental conditions. There are, however, numerous compounds that have been found in environmental matrices for which no photochemistry data relatable to environmental conditions are available. It will be necessary to combine the results available in the large body of fundamental photochemistry and phototoxicity literature with laboratory and field experiments designed to determine direct and indirect photolysis rates and to identify photoproducts. This course will lead to a thorough understanding of the role of photodegradation on the fate and impact of pharmaceutical pollutants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-341
Number of pages22
JournalAquatic Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the National Institutes for Water Resources/ USGS National Water Quality Competitive Grants Program and the University of Minnesota for support of this work. In addition, we thank the reviewers of this manuscript for their many valuable suggestions, which have improved this work. In particular, we thank the reviewers for their insight into the structural similarities between pesticides and pharmaceuticals and for providing us with the Burrows et al., 2002 reference.


  • Environmental fate
  • Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPS)
  • Photochemistry


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