Pharmaceuticals in the environment: Commission to act

pharmaceuticals in the environment
© iStock/Beeldbewerking

The European Commission has adopted a Communication detailing actions to be taken to avoid the proliferation of pharmaceutical substances into the environment.

The Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment report covers every stage of the “pharmaceutical life cycle” in both human and veterinary medicine, from design to production to disposal procedures; and advocates a sustainable approach from every sector of the pharmaceutical industry. The text highlights the hazards posed to fish and other wildlife by improperly discarded pharmaceuticals; and urges cooperation between Member States in order to ensure best practice is followed.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: “Most of us have had reason to take some form of medicine in our lives, and we are fortunate that we can be helped in this way. Pharmaceuticals are also essential for ensuring animal health. Many of us are however not aware that some of what is consumed ends up in the environment having an effect on wildlife such as the fish in our rivers. We must reduce the entry of pharmaceuticals into our rivers and soils for our own benefit and in order to protect the wildlife and the environment.”

The Communication identifies six primary areas where action must be taken:

  • Increasing awareness of the appropriate use and disposal of pharmaceutical products;
  • Encouraging pharmaceutical producers to develop products which are less “intrinsically harmful” to the environment, while promoting sustainable manufacturing practices;
  • Improving the efficacy of environmental risk assessments;
  • Reducing the amount of pharmaceutical waste produced and encouraging responsible waste disposal practices;
  • Expanding the range and scope of the EU’s environmental monitoring initiatives, in particular gathering extensive data on environmental concentrations of pharmaceutical substances; and
  • Filling miscellaneous gaps in EU knowledge through increased, focused research.

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “It is essential that medicines are safe and effective for our health, however we should be aware of the environmental impact they may have. Drug-resistant bacteria is one of the major health threats world-wide, therefore in our fight against antimicrobial resistance, everyone benefits not only from the prudent use of medicines but also from a well thought-through production and disposing system. It is time for us collectively to draw attention to the risks of the antimicrobials for the environment. This Communication identifies areas where action is needed and serves us as a stepping stone for our future discussions.”


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