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Pharmaceuticals in the Environment – A new approach


Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) released to surface waters have been an issue of concern for some time. The vast majority of APIs are discharged to the environment from municipal wastewater treatment plants but regulators have been slow to control such discharges. More attention has been paid to discharges from industrial plants as inputs and outputs are easier to control.

The current method of assessing API impact on the environment is by way of an Environmental Quality Standard called the PNEC (predicted no effect concentration) for the API of concern. This is compared to the PEC (predicted environmental concentration) using standard modelling methods to confirm no significant environmental impact.

New research has recently been undertaken which takes into account both short term and long term impacts as a result of discharges of APIs. A number of new parameters called ERCs (environmental reference concentrations) are proposed for long term exposure. ERCaquatic for protection of freshwater organisms such as fish, ERCmarine for protection of marine organisms, ERCpredator for protection of Otters etc. and ERChuman for protection of humans. Another group of parameters called MTCs (maximum tolerable concentrations) have been developed to give an indication of maximum allowable concentration over the short term (24 h).

30 APIs were assessed under the above system and its interesting to note that in some cases ERCaquatic was not the lowest concentration, meaning that humans or predators could be more sensitive to particular APIs.


Source: Murray-Smith, R.J., Coombe, V.T., Grunlund, M.H. et al. (2011) Managing Emissions of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients from Manufacturing Facilities: An Environmental Quality Standard Approach.

For more information contact Gerard Kelly on 058-51155.