UK: NERC DTP PhD Studentship: Analysis, Occurrence and Fate of Pharmaceuticals in Rivers at University of Leeds

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SUPERVISORS  Dr Paul Kay, Dr Richard Ansell

Project summary
This project will address a number of key research gaps in the field of emerging contaminants and will aim to improve analytical methods as well as increase our understanding of pharmaceutical occurrence and fate in rivers

Background and rationale
It is now well accepted that rivers contain trace concentrations of potentially thousands of chemicals that have been termed emerging contaminants, predominantly pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), although significant gaps remain and there is much potential for improved analytical methods, data on occurrence in the environment and a better understanding of fate processes. Numerous methods are now available for the determination of pharmaceuticals in environmental samples although to date molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) have been applied little and previous work suggests that the use of MIPs could improve substance separation and preconcentration in complex matrices. The actual fate of pharmaceuticals in rivers is still poorly understood and where data do exist they are often contradictory. Our recent monitoring has shown that a range of pharmaceuticals are persistent in rivers even though fate data suggest that they should be rapidly eliminated. This may be due to laboratory data not reflecting what happens in the field. For instance, it has been found that log Kow, a standard variable used in environmental risk assessments, is not actually a good predictor of partitioning between water and sediment. Alternatively, the use of inappropriate sampling regimes may lead to the production of unrepresentative field datasets. A further key gap in emerging contaminants research is that, even though hundreds of pharmaceuticals have been measured in rivers, only 4% of those available in the EU have actually been monitored for in the environment and particular groups, including antidepressants, have received very little attention.

Key research questions
1. What is the occurrence and fate of relatively unstudied groups of emerging contaminants?

2. Can molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) be used to improve analysis of pharmaceuticals in environmental samples?
3. What is the spatial occurrence and fate of pharmaceuticals in rivers?
4. Do temporal trends in pharmaceutical occurrence exist in rivers and how does sampling regime affect the datasets produced?
5. What determines the fate of pharmaceuticals in rivers and how do laboratory and field data compare?

FURTHER INFORMATION – Visit the project webpage

We will offer around 25 studentships for UK and EU students starting in October 2014. The full PhD studentship consists of a personal stipend at RCUK rates for 3.5 years (at least) and generous support for research costs, fieldwork and conference travel. Eligibility for these may be viewed at:

We also welcome applications from self-funding students (UK/EU/International) or students in receipt of other scholarship funding.

We aim to recruit the overall best applicants based on their academic merit and interview performance.

Application deadline is 24th January 2014 and projects will commence in October 2014. Information on how to apply may be viewed via

The Leeds York NERC DTP

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the Leeds York NERC Doctorial Training Partnership. Our vision is to equip the next generation of earth and environmental scientists with the skills necessary to understand the complex interactions within the Earth system.

Information on all the proposed projects can be found on the projects summary webpage.

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