Antidepressant pharmaceuticals in two U.S. effluent-impacted streams: Occurrence and fate in water and sediment and selective uptake in fish neural tissue

Melissa M. Schultz, Edward T. Furlong, Dana W. Kolpin, Stephen L. Werner, Heiko L. Schoenfuss, Larry B. Barber, Vicki S. Blazer, David O. Norris, Alan M. Vajda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

438 Scopus citations


Antidepressant pharmaceuticals are widely prescribed in the United States; release of municipal wastewater effluent is a primary route introducing them to aquatic environments, where little is known about their distribution and fate. Water, bed sediment, and brain tissue from native white suckers (Catostomus commersoni)were collected upstream and atpoints progressively downstream from outfalls discharging to two effluentimpacted streams, Boulder Creek (Colorado) and Fourmile Creek (Iowa). A liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry method was used to quantify antidepressants, including fluoxetine, norfluoxetine (degradate), sertraline, norsertraline (degradate), paroxetine, Citalopram, fluvoxamine, duloxetine, venlafaxine, and bupropion in all three sample matrices. Antidepressants were not present above the limit of quantitation in water samples upstream from the effluent outfalls but were present at points downstream at ng/L concentrations, even at the farthest downstream sampling site 8.4 km downstream from the outfall. The antidepressants with the highest measured concentrations in both streams were venlafaxine, bupropion, and Citalopram and typically were observed at concentrations of at least an order of magnitude greater than the more commonly investigated antidepressants fluoxetine and sertraline. Concentrations of antidepressants in bed sediment were measured at ng/g levels; venlafaxine and fluoxetine were the predominant chemicals observed. Fluoxetine, sertraline, and their degradates were the principal antidepressants observed in fish brain tissue, typically at low ng/g concentrations. Aqualitatively different antidepressant profile was observed in brain tissue compared to streamwater samples. This study documents that wastewater effluent can be a point source of antidepressants to stream ecosystems and that the qualitative composition of antidepressants in brain tissue from exposed fish differs substantially from the compositions observed in streamwater and sediment, suggesting selective uptake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1918-1925
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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