Pharmaceutical pollution

is a worldwide threat to

humans and the environment

Pharmaceutical pollution

is a worldwide threat to

humans and the environment

Join the Safer Pharma campaign to challenge

the pharmaceutical industry and legislators

to protect human and environmental health in Europe

Join the campaign!


Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a global problem – more than 600 pharmaceuticals and their metabolites have been found in the environment worldwide.

They enter the environment (through water, soil, sludge, and organisms) at all stages of their life cycle and can end up in drinking water, and accumulate in fish, vegetables, and livestock.

This aim of the Safer Pharma campaign is to protect the environment from pharmaceutical pollution at all stage of their life cycle.

The campaign is coordinated by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe, a non-profit European coalition of hospitals, healthcare systems, healthcare professionals, local authorities, research/academic institutions, and environmental and health organisations whose aim is to bring the voice of healthcare professionals to the European policy debate about key issues affecting the environment.

Find out more about HCWH Europe here.

The SaferPharma campaign aims to:

  • Challenge the pharmaceutical industry to clean up their production
  • Raise awareness amongst healthcare professionals about the 
impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment, encouraging rational 
prescription practices
  • Help citizens to understand the impact of pharmaceuticals in the 
environment and how to safely dispose of unused medicine
  • Work towards transnational agreement to ensure the minimisation of 
pharmaceuticals in the environment

EU Commission - publish the plan!

Help us to get the Commission moving!

Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a worldwide threat to human health and the environment.

Pharmaceuticals enter into the environment throughout their lifecycle – in their production, use, and disposal, and wastewater treatment plants are unable to completely filter the improperly disposed of pharmaceuticals and residual pharmaceuticals found in human excretions. These residues can enter terrestrial water and spread to other environmental compartments, such as surface waters and agricultural lands.

Experts around the globe are well aware that pharmaceuticals in the environment represent a pollution problem – over 631 different medicines or their metabolites have been detected in at least 71 countries on all continents on all continents.

Throughout Europe, too many pharmaceuticals end up unnecessarily in the environment. European laws should protect our health and the environment and reduce pharmaceutical pollution throughout their lifecycle.

Health Care Without Harm Europe believes that European law makers play an important role in protecting the environment, our health and that of our children.

In 2013, the European Commission promised to “develop a strategic approach to pollution of water by pharmaceutical substances” by 13th September 2015. So far, no action has been taken and we are still waiting for the Commission to develop its action plan.

Let’s make sure they do their job and follow through on their promise, protecting EU citizens and the environment.

Send an email to the key European Commissioners today!

(Your email will be sent directly to European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker, Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Director General for Environment, Daniel Calleja Crespo)

Safer pharmaceuticals campaign

Dear Mr. Juncker,


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How do pharmaceuticals get into the environment?

Pharmaceutical residues can enter the environment during production, consumption, and disposal. We need to achieve zero discharge from the manufacturing plants.

Medicines also enter into the environment through human excretion via wastewater and animal excretion via runoff from agricultural areas and discharges from aqua culture.

Another route is through improper disposal (unused medicine should never be disposed of in a toilet or sink). Current wastewater treatment plants are unable to completely destroy or remove pharmaceuticals.

Consequently, pharmaceutical residues can re-enter terrestrial systems, spread to surface waters and agricultural lands, and can ultimately end up in drinking water, and build up in vegetables and fish.

How are humans exposed to pharmaceuticals in the environment?

  • Pharmaceuticals and their residues that enter the water supply and spread to surface waters and agricultural lands can ultimately end up in drinking water and build up in vegetables and fish.
  • Humans can be unintentionally exposed by consuming contaminated water and food.
  • Low concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the environment can have adverse effects on animals and other organisms, which raises questions about how humans can be affected by continuous, long term exposure to low concentrations of pharmaceuticals.

How can pharmaceuticals in the environment affect wildlife?

  • Though the traces of pharmaceuticals in the environment are well below therapeutic doses, they can still have effects on unintended targets.
  • Animals and other organisms that are exposed to pharmaceuticals in water, soil, or even by feeding on medicated animals can experience behavioural, physiological, and histological effects.
  • Antibiotics in the environment can promote the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Patients consume and excrete medicine:

How can you help reduce pharmaceutical pollution?

  • Don’t dispose your unused or expired drugs in the toilet or sink
  • Buy over-the-counter medicine only as needed
  • Avoid stockpiling medicines that cannot be used before expiry
  • Learn about your local recommended method for disposing of pharmaceuticals and packaging
  • Never take antibiotics without medical advice
  • Never stop your antibiotic therapy without medical recommendation

Doctors control the duration and dosage of individual prescriptions, and are well positioned to help reduce the risk for accumulation of unused pharmaceuticals that become waste and can end up in the environment.

Simple practices can help reduce unnecessary pharmaceutical emissions in the environment:

  • Prescribing starter packs for new medicines
  • Prescribing the smallest package possible, and giving refills as needed
  • Prescribing preventative measures and non-medicinal therapy where possible
  • Prescribing antibiotics prudently

Reducing unused medicine can also:

  • Reduce healthcare costs
  • Reduce loss of patient benefits
  • Optimise use of healthcare resources
  • Be part of your hospital’s or clinic’s sustainability strategy


Doctors can also help educate patients about pharmaceutical pollution and on ways to reduce waste and unnecessary emissions.

  • Hundreds of different active pharmaceutical compounds are being discovered in waterways around the world.
  • Concern is increasing about the harm these might be doing to human health and
 the environment.
  • Whilst pharmaceutical residues
 can enter the environment during the production, consumption and disposal, incorrect disposal of household pharmaceutical waste is considered the second major pathway into the environment.
  • Proper collection and disposal of household pharmaceutical waste can contribute to reducing the impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment.
  • Effective collection schemes would divert unused medicines from mixed waste streams that are not designed to deal specifically with pharmaceutical products.
  • European citizens do not know how to dispose of unwanted medicines safely, their common disposal practices being toilet, sink and household rubbish.

Pharmaceutical Industry Groups can:

  • Sponsor and promote awareness- raising and educational campaigns targeting different age groups, using various communication channels
  • Make available medicine pack sizes that are adapted to different therapies
  • Cover the costs associated with the collection schemes
  • Design and develop benign pharmaceuticals that rapidly biodegrade in the environment into harmless compounds



AMR Webinar HCWH Site Image
Free webinar |

Webinar | The (un)recognised pathways of AMR: Air pollution and food 28th March 2017, 16:00 CEST Register here On Tuesday, the 28th of March, HCWH Europe and HCWH US & Canada will host a joint webinar: “The (un)recognised pathways of AMR: Air…

Test your knowledge!

What do you know about pharmaceuticals in the environment?

What do you know about pharmaceuticals in the environment?


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