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Environmental designer drugs: when transformation may not eliminate risk.

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Environmental transformation processes, including those occurring in natural and engineered systems, do not necessarily drastically alter molecular structures of bioactive organic contaminants. While the majority of generated transformation products are likely benign, substantial conservation of structure in transformation products can imply conservation or even creation of bioactivity across multiple biological end points and thus incomplete mitigation of ecological risk. Therefore, focusing solely on parent compound removal for contaminants of higher relative risk, the most common approach to fate characterization, provides no mechanistic relationship to potential biological effects and is inadequate as a comprehensive metric for reduction of ecological risks. Here, we explore these phenomena for endocrine-active steroid hormones, focusing on examples of conserved bioactivity and related implications for fate assessment, regulatory approaches, and research opportunities.

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