Enantiomer-specific bioaccumulation and distribution of chiral pharmaceuticals in a subtropical marine food web

Yuefei RUAN, Huiju LIN, Xiaohua ZHANG, Rongben WU, Kai ZHANG, Kenneth M.Y. LEUNG, Chung Wah James LAM, Paul K.S. LAM

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There is a growing concern about the occurrence of chiral pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment. However, trophic transfer of pharmaceutical enantiomers in marine organisms is still largely unknown. This study assessed the bioaccumulation and spatial distribution of four frequently detected pharmaceuticals — atenolol, metoprolol, venlafaxine, and chloramphenicol, in a subtropical marine food web in Hong Kong waters. Twenty-four species were analyzed, including mollusks, crustaceans, and fishes. Special focus was placed in the chirality of the four analytes comprising ten different stereoisomers. Results showed that mean concentrations of individual pharmaceuticals ranged from <0.03 to 5.88 ng/g wet weight, and invertebrates generally had higher concentrations than fishes. Organisms from Hong Kong western waters were likely more contaminated by the studied pharmaceuticals than those from southern and eastern waters. Trophic dilution was observed for atenolol and chloramphenicol, with trophic magnification factors of 0.164 and 0.517, respectively. R-(+)-atenolol, S-(−)-metoprolol, and R-(−)-venlafaxine were selectively accumulated in fishes, and stereoisomeric impurities of chloramphenicol, i.e., enantiomers apart from R,R-para-form, were widespread in the investigated species. Under the worst-case scenario, atenolol and metoprolol in collected fishes might exceed toxic threshold, while local adults were unlikely to experience health risks from pharmaceutical exposure via seafood consumption. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122589
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Early online dateMar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Mar 2020



Ruan, Y., Lin, H., Zhang, X., Wu, R., Zhang, K., Leung, K. M. Y., . . . Lam, P. K. S. (2020). Enantiomer-specific bioaccumulation and distribution of chiral pharmaceuticals in a subtropical marine food web. Journal of Hazardous Materials. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.122589


  • Enantioselectivity
  • Atenolol
  • Chloramphenicol
  • Trophic dilution
  • Risk assessment