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Why we must act on pharmaceuticals in the environment
Blog  posted by Rosalind Simpson  on October 22, 2014  

Laurel Berzanskis, Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Policy Officer for HCWH Europe, discusses pharmaceuticals in the environment (PiE) ahead of the PiE Debate, a joint event co-organised by HCWH Europe and EFPIA.

The pollution of water and soil with pharmaceutical residues has already been recognised as an emerging environmental concern by the European institutions. Pharmaceuticals have also been detected in water and soil across the world, including in drinking water. There are serious concerns as to how the long-term, continuous exposure of humans to pharmaceuticals in water sources may affect human health. 

Scientific research reveals increasing environmental damage 

Research shows that pharmaceuticals in the environment can have unintended consequences on unintended targets such as fish and wildlife. A study conducted in 2004 to investigate the 97% decline in Old World vultures in India revealed that a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, was causing kidney failure and death in vultures feeding on livestock treated with the drug. Furthermore, aquatic organisms are particularly vulnerable to pharmaceuticals. For example, synthetic oestrogens in water can interfere with the endocrine systems of fish and even cause feminisation in male fish.

The unexpected consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment are a reality. This is why action must be taken against pharmaceutical pollution. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe is working to reduce pharmaceutical pollution and to promote the adoption of a strong Strategic Approach to this by raising awareness, educating medical professionals, and engaging with the Commission and other stakeholders to find the best ways to reduce pollution.

The unexpected consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment are a reality. This is why action must be taken against pharmaceutical pollution. 

— Laurel Berzanskis 

Environmental risk assessment for pharmaceuticals 

The European Commission is expected to publish a new Strategic Approach on pharmaceuticals in the environment by September 2015.  It is vital that the environmental risk assessment (ERA) is better utilised in order to effectively tackle pharmaceutical pollution. 

HCWH Europe would like to see the ERA expanded so that more information and end points are taken into consideration and also broadened so that it applies to all pharmaceuticals on the market. We also want to see more long-term commitment to developing 'green' active pharmaceutical ingredients that produce minimal waste, have increased bioavailability and do not persist in the environment. 

Furthermore, the existing obligations on Member States to account for pharmaceutical waste from unused or expired medicines need to be enforced and monitored. HCWH Europe supports the use of the extended producer responsibility clause of the Waste Framework Directive, which would make the pharmaceuticals industry financially responsible for the costs of collection of unused or expired medicines.

Joint debate on pharmaceuticals in the environment 

In order to raise awareness of the issue of pharmaceuticals in the environment (PiE) ahead of the Strategic Approach, we decided to host a joint debate on PiE with the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).  This will take place on Friday 24th October in Brussels.

This workshop is a landmark event for us. As a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, we typically only collaborate with other NGOs. By co-organising an event with an industry group, we aim to engage with as many sub-groups as possible in the policy debate on pharmaceuticals in the environment. We believe that it is vital to maintain an open dialogue with the authorities and other stakeholders on this issue.

Although EFPIA and HCWH Europe have different views at this point on how pharmaceutical pollution should be addressed at EU level, we are collaborating to provide a forum where diverse views can be expressed in an open and transparent way. By holding an event together, we are sending a strong message to the Commission that civil society and industry are united in their demand for the issue of pharmaceuticals in the environment to be treated as an important issue at EU level.

Follow the #PiEdebate on social media  

Unfortunately, registration for the PiE Debate on Friday 24th October is now closed. The good news is that you can follow the debate via Twitter. On Friday, we will be using the hashtag #PiEdebate to share photos and updates on discussions throughout the event.

— Laurel Berzanskis, Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Policy Officer      

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