The research aims to meet an ambitious set of goals and objectives by using a combination of state of the art techniques and expertise, building on capacity from current and previous research funded by the EPA and others. A comprehensive desk study on the life cycle of pharmaceuticals and occurrence of pharmaceuticals in Irish waters has been carried out. This is being used to inform on selection of target analytes some of which include pharmaceuticals on the EPA Watch List, along with a selection of other commonly found prescription and over the counter medicines, and catchment area based on existing datasets. The analytical methods for quantification of these pharmaceuticals is currently being optimised at DCU under the EPA funded IMPACT project and this will be leveraged into EMPIRE. Ecotoxicological assessment of selected sites will be performed using in vivo bioassay techniques, both in the field and by establishment of an indoor mesocosm at DCU, to allow assessment of the effects of controlled exposure of macroinvertebrates to mixtures.
In addition, physiological endpoints of the target pharmaceuticals above are being tested by first establishing a potential list of in vitro bioassays which may exhibit an effect-based response for pharmaceutical contamination. The selected bioassays are to be challenged with the target analytes for effect on the subcellular level and those that show an appropriate response will be used to characterise water quality as part of case studies of Irish surface water sites in conjunction with profiling of the pharmaceutical contamination of the sites. It is hoped that the findings of this study will serve as a proof of concept and validation of effect-based monitoring tools in addition to the generation of data on the environmental impact of the selected pharmaceuticals.