February 23, 2024

Pharmaceuticals environmental pollution

Pharmaceuticals environmental pollution

The first reports on the presence of pharmaceuticals in wastewater and natural water were published in 1977–1978. Since then, knowledge of the sources, fate and ecotoxicology of pharmaceuticals has started to advance. It has been well confirmed that pharmaceuticals are present all over the world in groundwater, surface water, wastewater, soils and biota

Residential wastewater is often presented as the primary source; thereby, pharmaceuticals can be used as markers of surface and groundwater pollution by domestic wastewater.

The problem of environmental contamination by pharmaceuticals is complex, not only because of various sources but also the numerous medical compounds in use

Thereby, despite the pharmaceuticals used in human medicine, those used for animal (in this for pets) and plant treatment were the subject, despite the general opinion of its minor contribution to environmental pollution.

How do pharmaceuticals get into the environment?

Like many foods and supplements that are consumed by humans and animals, pharmaceuticals are not always completely broken down or absorbed by the body. Thus, the primary reason for the presence of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in the environment is the excretion of substances by humans and animals that then find their way into surface waters through municipal wastewater treatment systems.
There are other, less significant, sources such as improper disposal of unused or expired medicines being flushed down toilets or sinks. EFPIA supports appropriate processes and systems to ensure the proper disposal of unused medicines. In addition, to a lesser extent pharmaceutical manufacturing facility discharges can also contribute to the compounds found in surface waters.

Do pharmaceuticals harm the environment?

It is generally acknowledged that pharmaceuticals occur at extremely low levels in the environment and EU medicines regulations have been established to evaluate and assess the potential impact of human and environmental exposure to pharmaceutical residues.
The scientific literature provides very little information on real environmental impacts which may be attributable to the presence of pharmaceuticals and has not provided consistent evidence that human pharmaceuticals occurring as residues from patient excretion in the environment have an impact on populations or ecosystems.
However, the pharmaceutical industry acknowledges and supports the need for greater efforts in understanding the long term environmental impact of man-made substances, including medicines, and in minimizing their release into the environment

Do pharmaceuticals stay in the environment forever?

Pharmaceuticals do degrade in the environment at varying rates. Factors affecting the rate include temperature, exposure to sunlight, availability of oxygen, and the nature of the pharmaceutical structure.

Control / Action

The wide range of actions for the minimalization of pharmaceuticals should be taken in parallel by various players, globally and at different organisational levels: scientific institutions, governments, non-governmental organizations, manufacturers, industry and households.

Working upstream of the pharmaceutical life cycle will reduce the impact not only on the native
compounds but also on the metabolites and transformation products created during advanced treatment.

The synthesis of eco-friendly pharmaceuticals is a concept which assumes that pharmaceuticals, after excretion, will easily degrade and be less toxic for aquatic organisms, and this can be done by manipulation of the chemical structure. This improvement should not change the active ingredients during shelf storage and not change the mechanism of action

Furthermore, the design of new active substances should be coupled with two main features: higher bio-availability and higher selectivity of action.


  1. The Management of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment (PIE) https://www.efpia.eu
  2. Magda Caban, Piotr Stepnowski. How to decrease pharmaceuticals in the environment? A review, Environmental Chemistry Letters (2021) 19:3115–3138

Suggested readings:

F Y D Pharm & S Y D Pharm Notes, Books, Syllabus, PDF, Videos

First Year D PharmSecond Year D Pharm
ER20-11T Pharmaceutics TheoryER20-21T Pharmacology Theory
ER20-11P Pharmaceutics PracticalER20-21P Pharmacology Practical
ER20-12T Pharmaceutical Chemistry TheoryER20-22T Community Pharmacy & Management Theory
ER20-12P Pharmaceutical Chemistry PracticalER20-22P Community Pharmacy & Management Practical
ER20-13T Pharmacognosy TheoryER20-23T Biochemistry & Clinical Pathology Theory
ER20-13P Pharmacognosy PracticalER20-23P Biochemistry & Clinical Pathology Practical
ER20-14T Human Anatomy Physiology TheoryER20-24T Pharmacotherapeutics Theory
ER2014P Human Anatomy Physiology PracticalER20-24P Pharmacotherapeutics Practical
ER20-15T Social Pharmacy TheoryER20-25T Hospital & Clinical Pharmacy Theory
ER20-15P Social Pharmacy PracticalER20-25P Hospital & Clinical Pharmacy Practical
ER20-26T Pharmacy Law & Ethics