In the media: The Safer Pharma campaign to eliminate pharmaceuticals in the environment

Pharmaceutical pollution is a worldwide threat to humans and the environment. This is the key warning of the Safer Pharma campaign, a dedicated effort to encourage pharma companies to clean up their production, raise awareness among healthcare professionals of the impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment, and promote better medicine disposal practices amongst the public.

The campaign is co-ordinated by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe – a non-profit membership organisation working to transform the European healthcare sector into a global leader in environmental health and justice, and secure an ecologically sustainable, equitable and healthy future.

Here, the campaign’s Adela Maghear, pharmaceuticals policy officer at HCWH Europe, discusses the threat posed by pharmaceutical pollution, the importance of industrial leadership, and the role of the European Commission in safeguarding human and environmental health.

What dangers are associated with pharmaceuticals in the environment – to both human and environmental health?

Pharmaceutical pollution poses dangers to ecosystems and human health globally: pharmaceuticals enter the environment at all stages of their life-cycle (production, use, and disposal), meaning they can end up in our drinking water as well as accumulate in vegetables and fish. There is scientific evidence that even low concentrations of pharmaceuticals have harmful effects on animals and plants, and may also affect humans, as attested by two reports published by Deloitte for the European Commission (20131 and 20162).

In order to be effective, the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in drugs are designed to be biologically active and resistant to metabolic degradation, which means they persist and remain active in the environment as an unintended consequence.

APIs in the environment can cause reproductive failure, growth inhibition, and behavioural changes in organisms and even collapse populations. Several studies3 and documentaries4 have shown the devastating impacts of uncontrolled manufacturing discharges on water bodies, as well as on the people and animals who have come into contact with the resistant bacteria found in the environment.

Read the full version of the article:
Reproduced by kind permission of Pan European Networks Ltd,
©Pan European Networks 2018


  3. Changing Markets (2016) Impacts of pharmaceutical pollution on communities and environment in India. Larsson J, de Pedro C, Paxeus N (2007) Effluent from drug manufacturers contains extremely high levels of pharmaceuticals, in Journal of Hazardous Materials, 148
    Larsson J (2014) Pollution from drug manufacturing: review and perspectives, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369
    Lübbert C, Baars C, Dayakar A et al. (2017) Environmental pollution with antimicrobial agents from bulk drug manufacturing industries in Hyderabad, South India, is associated with dissemination of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase and carbapenemase-producing pathogens, in Infection, 45(4)
  4. Zembla (2018) The real price of cheap medicine
    Norddeutsche Rundfunk (NDR) (2018) Auf der Spur der Superkeime,keime302.html