Does the natural carcinogen ptaquiloside degrade readily in groundwater?

Jane Wu, Frederik Clausson-Kaas, Dan Lindqvist, Lars Holm Rasmussen, Bjarne Strobel, Hans Christian Bruun Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Ptaquiloside (PTA) is a natural carcinogen found in bracken ferns. PTA is released from the plants via soil to surface and groundwaters from where humans can be exposed via drinking water. Primary degradation of PTA is due to hydrolysis with formation of pterosin B (PTB). Temperature and pH determine the rate of hydrolysis under pure experimental conditions. To assess the applicability of the experimental model to natural groundwaters, PTA degradation kinetics were examined in a range of natural groundwaters at environmentally relevant conditions.
PTA was quantified by UPLC-MS/MS. Over an 80-day study period, PTA half-lives ranged from 6.5 to 47 days (natural pH; 8.0 °C). The fastest degradation was observed for the most alkaline groundwaters with pH of around 8. Rates of degradation were well predicted using an existing mathematical model for hydrolysis. However, deviations from this model were found, especially at the extremes of the examined pH-range (4.7–8.2). The degree of conversion
of PTA to PTB was close to unity around neutral pH. However, at slightly acidic conditions, formation of PTB could only count for 9% of the degraded PTA, indicating formation of other products.
Degradation of PTA in groundwater is determined by pH and temperature, and PTA can prevail for months under slightly acid to neutral pH conditions. The existing laboratory-based model for PTA hydrolysis is generally applicable for groundwaters but needs further validation at high and low pH.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
JournalEnvironmental Sciences Europe
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • clinical assessment methods, lab technology and radiography
  • Pteridium sp.
  • bracken fern
  • carcinogens
  • drinking water
  • hydrolysis
  • pterosins


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