Detection and drivers of exposure and effects of pharmaceuticals in higher vertebrates

R. F. Shore, M. A. Taggart, J. Smits, R. Mateo, N. L. Richards, S. Fryday

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Pharmaceuticals are highly bioactive compounds now known to be widespread environmental contaminants. However, research regarding exposure and possible effects in non-target higher vertebrate wildlife remains scarce. The fate and behaviour of most pharmaceuticals entering our environment via numerous pathways remain poorly characterized, and hence our conception and understanding of the risks posed to wild animals is equally constrained. The recent decimation of Asian vulture populations owing to a pharmaceutical (diclofenac) offers a notable example, because the exposure route (livestock carcasses) and the acute toxicity observed were completely unexpected. This case not only highlights the need for further research, but also the wider requirement for more considered and comprehensive ‘ecopharmacovigilance’. We discuss known and potential high risk sources and pathways in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems where pharmaceutical exposure in higher vertebrate wildlife, principally birds and mammals, may occur. We examine whether approaches taken within existing surveillance schemes (that commonly target established classes of persistent or bioaccumulative contaminants) and the risk assessment approaches currently used for pesticides are relevant to pharmaceuticals, and we highlight where new approaches may be required to assess pharmaceutical-related risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20130570
Number of pages20130570
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biologic
Issue number1664
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2014


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