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Pharmaceuticals and the Environment (PiE): Evolution and impact of the published literature revealed by bibliometric analysis

Authors : Christian G. Daughton


The evolution and impact of the published literature surrounding the transdisciplinary, multifaceted topic of pharmaceuticals as contaminants in the environment is examined for the first time in an historical context. The preponderance of literature cited in this examination represents the earlier works. As an historical chronology, the focus is on the emergence of key, specific aspects of the overall topic (often termed PiE) in the published literature and on the most highly cited works. This examination is not a conventional, technical review of the literature; as such, little attention was devoted to the more recent literature.

The many dimensions involved with PiE span over 70 years of published literature. Some articles began to appear in published works in the 1940s and earlier, while others only began to receive attention in the 1990s and later. Decades of early research on what at the time seemed to be disconnected topics eventually coalesced in the mid-to-late 1990s around a number of interconnected concerns and issues that now comprise PiE. Major objectives are to provide a new perspective to the topic, to facilitate more efficient and effective review of the literature by others, and to recognize the more significant, seminal contributions to the advancement of PiE as a field of research. Some of the most highly cited articles in all of environmental science now involve PiE. As of April 2015, a core group of 385 PiE articles had each received at least 200 citations; one had received 5424 citations. But hundreds of additional articles also played important roles in the evolution and advancement of the field.


API, active pharmaceutical ingredient; CECs, contaminants of emerging concern; EDC, endocrine disrupting chemical; EPA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; EPR, extended producer responsibility; FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; GS, Google Scholar; MDR, multidrug resistance; MXR, multixenobiotic resistance; PiE, pharmaceuticals in the environment; PhACs, pharmaceutically active compounds; PPCPs, pharmaceuticals and personal care products; TPs, transformation products; TrOC (TOrC), trace organic chemical


Pharmaceuticals; Environmental contaminants; History; Bibliometrics; Most cited

Citation: Christian G. Daughton Pharmaceuticals and the Environment (PiE): Evolution and impact of the published literature revealed by bibliometric analysis doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.109

Received: 16 February 2016 Revised: 15 March 2016 Accepted: 15 March 2016 Available online: 19 April 2016

Copyright: Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

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