The Background

Probably the biggest problem facing policymakers tackling pharmaceuticals in the environment (PiE) is that they are invisible. If it is difficult to persuade people that they should change age-old practices and make costly investments. It is even harder when they cannot see the evidence in the short-term.

Sources of PiE are wide-ranging and include:

  • Human excreta collected at sewage treatment plants and arising in effluent
  • Unused drugs disposed to landfill waste streams later emerging in leachate
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing plant wastewater discharge (often containing Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs))
  • Animal excreta from intensive farming appearing in run-off
  • Meat production, abattoir and rendering plant discharge

Pharmaceutical residues are polluting both surface waters and groundwaters globally and this includes cross-border rivers like the Rhine and the Meuse in Europe. The impacts on water quality in municipal supplies and on aquatic life and ecosystems can have very serious consequences as humans and other species are inadvertently dosed with medication.

The supply chain for pharmaceutical production is global and therefore, Western manufacturers must support measures in India and China too.