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Pharmaceuticals in the environment

The European Commission has recently published a communication outlining measures to address challenges that the release of pharmaceuticals pose to the environment.This includes pharmaceuticals used for both veterinary and human purposes. Pharmaceuticals can enter the environment at any stage from their production, use and disposal.

Pharmaceuticals are being detected in surface water and groundwater bodies all around Europe. The discharge of pharmaceuticals has been shown to pose a risk for aquatic life in particular, by altering their behavior as well as causing physical harm.

As well as affecting organisms, incorrectly discarded pharmaceuticals can cause water and soil contamination. As research on the effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment is relatively recent, the potential impacts on ecosystems and human health are not fully known.

The EU Commission has also highlighted the global issue of drug-resistant bacteria. There have been instances of certain antimicrobial compounds being found in both soil and water. The presence of these compounds can lead to the development of resistant microorganisms which is becoming a global threat to human health.

The EU Commission has highlighted six areas of concern in the life cycle of pharmaceuticals where it would be possible to make positive changes. The actions identified in the publication include:

  • Raising awareness and promoting the prudent use of pharmaceuticals;
  • Improvement of training and risk assessment;
  • Gather monitoring data;
  • Incentivise‘green design’;
  • Reduce emissions from manufacturing;
  • Reduce waste and improve wastewater treatment.

In the communication, the EU Commission has highlighted the necessity of partaking in good practices, cooperation between member states and on improving knowledge and education of the risks involved with pharmaceuticals in the environment.

The European Commission communication can be found here.

August 2019