Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Paul T. Anastas

Second Advisor

Julie B. Zimmerman


Pharmaceuticals are used in increasing numbers every day. While their use has provided immense advances in modern medicine and the health and well-being of humans and animals, their inherent design and intended function has resulted in unintended consequences of high environmental impact compromising public health when exposed to environmental concentrations. This paper briefly reviews the current understanding of pharmaceuticals in the environment: their emission sources, adverse health effects, and current remediation and mitigation strategies. Based on these findings the study explores the use of modeling tools to predict the environmental fate of pharmaceuticals and their subsequent behavior in the environment to identify the most problematic pharmaceutical compounds of concern. This information can be used to better design pharmaceuticals for biodegradation and potential mitigation of adverse effects for long term results. The octanol-water partition coefficient may serve to be an important factor in determining optimal pharmaceutical design for medicinal efficacy and decreased environmental impact. Most importantly, pharmaceuticals must be biodegradable in their respective environmental compartment based on their expected environmental fate. For example, they must be anaerobically biodegradable if they are expected to partition to sediment. Similarly they must be aerobically biodegradable if they are expected to be found in water. Some work has been done to better categorize pharmaceutical in terms of their persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity, however this fails to recognize the environmental fate of pharmaceuticals. Unlike other chemicals, pharmaceuticals cannot be banned for their detrimental environmental impact due to their necessity in improving human and veterinary health, therefore there is an urgent need for a better understanding as to why chemicals are end up in our environment and where they are ending up. This information can be used to better design pharmaceuticals for eventual biodegradation and mitigation of adverse effects in the long term. This study not only aims to identify problematic compounds, but also elucidate areas of prioritization in benign by design practices and bring to light areas for future research in order to go beyond function and consider the environmental and health implications associated with the design choices made in pharmaceutical development.


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