Call for EU to act on Growing Threat to Wildlife and Drinking Water from pharmaceuticals

There is increasing evidence that human and veterinary medicines are damaging wildlife, a new report launched today by the environmental charity CHEM Trust shows.


The report “Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: A growing threat to our tap water and wildlife” highlights that medicines [1] are polluting rivers and have harmed wild birds and fish. Other species too have been affected, and people are also worryingly exposed.
This report comes at a time of growing global concern about the environmental effects of pharmaceuticals. Later this month a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting [2] will decide whether ‘Pharmaceuticals in the Environment’ should be recommended to be designated an emerging global policy issue.
The author of the report, Gwynne Lyons, Director of Policy at CHEM Trust, said: Most people would probably be surprised that in general they excrete between 30-90% of any medicine they take. With so many medicines now being found in our rivers, action on all fronts is needed to protect wildlife and drinking water.
She added: The long term implications of many highly active medicines in our environment may come back to haunt us. The current situation is mind-boggling with fish contaminated with the birth control pill, antidepressants (such as Prozac), sedatives, antibiotics, painkillers, anti-cancer drugs and goodness knows what else.
The report, an extensive analysis of the scientific literature and government reports, finds that there is a lack of adequate controls:
◾613 pharmaceuticals have been reported in the environment worldwide, but analytical detection methods are not even available for many of the thousands of medicines in use.
◾Rivers in the UK (and in all regions of the world) are now contaminated with many medicines.
◾In England, anti-inflammatories and pain killers (ibuprofen and diclofenac) have been found in fur taken from otters.
◾In Sweden, samples of perch fish were found to be contaminated with 23 pharmaceuticals, including antidepressants (such as Prozac), sedatives, antibiotics, painkillers and anti-cancer drugs.
◾Baltic Sea salmon has been found contaminated with ethinyl estradiol, used in the contraceptive pill.
◾Several medicines have been shown to harm laboratory animals at the levels found in the environment, but there is little monitoring for effects in wildlife.
◾Assessments of the environmental risks from human medicines in use before 30th October 2005 were not required and are often absent.
◾Dozens of medicines have been found in samples of drinking water in EU countries with larger monitoring programmes (eg. in France, Sweden, Spain and Germany)Yet legal standards for residues of medicines in rivers and drinking waters are lacking.
The report by CHEM Trust concludes that individuals, companies and governments can all help to reduce this problem by ensuring that:
◾Unused medicines are disposed of at pharmacies and NOT by flushing them down the toilet
◾New medicines are designed so that they don’t persist in the environment, and
◾Sewage treatment works are improved
In addition, the European Union should strengthen laws relating to the pollution of rivers with pharmaceuticals, and there also needs to be better international coordination on this issue.
Full report can he found HERE
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