Europe moving forward in regulating pharmaceutical pollutants

Water pollution by pharmaceutical chemicals among others, came under the loop across the European Union earlier this month.  A total of 15 chemicals were added to the current list of 33 water pollutants regulated throughout the European Union.  The European Commission reviewed over 2,000 potential chemical pollutants (including insecticides, herbicides, drug products and industrial chemicals). The common concern for all these chemicals? Human and fish health impacts.

A major breakthrough is that certain pharmaceutical chemicals have now been added to the formal list of regulated pollutants.  This is a major step forward for the EU in managing and improving the quality of its surface waters. ClickGreen News quoted the EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, reporting that water pollution is one of the major concerns of the EU’s citizens.

Concern for surface water quality result from high concentrations of these chemicals, which  is detrimental to fish and other aquatic organisms, particularly endocrine systems of these organisms.  With fish population dieback from these health impacts, water quality degradation occurs.  The Environment Commissioner furthermore reported that knowledge of the environmental impact of pharmaceutical chemicals has improved considerably, and thus the inclusion of these specific pharmaceutical chemicals for the first time as regulated chemicals.  One should bear in mind that pharmaceutical chemicals are specifically designed to change living cells – and it is therefore a major threat to the natural environment where these chemicals end up as pollutants.  The human stomach is the intended endpoint for these chemicals.  Therefore, these chemicals are designed to withstand the harsh acidic environment of the human stomach which is in stark contrast to our aquatic environments.  Globally, there is some recognition for pharmaceutical pollutants, described as environmental persistent pharmaceutical pollutants (EPPP). However, for many years, these chemicals have been overlooked, and remain mostly unregulated on a global scale.   But as the global population’s need and desires for medication increases, so does the level of EPPP in our global waters.

The Commission’s decision lead to ambiguous responses.  The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations responded that the Commission’s decisions should have been supported by more rigorous and longer term research.  On the other hand, the European Environmental Bureau, although they supported the inclusion of the 15 chemicals to the regulated chemicals, responded with concern that only 15 of the 2,000 initially reviewed chemicals were included for regulation.

Considering the observed and potential aquatic pollution from these mostly unregulated chemicals, the Commission certainly moved into the right direction.  It also initiated a very important model for pharmaceutical pollutant regulation on a global scale.

Sources: &

Photo credits: some rights reserved by John Kasawa and Carlos Porto via


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