We can all help to reduce pollution of the environment by pharmaceutical residues. For instance, producers could make environmental information on their products publicly available, physicians could prescribe less or different drugs, and patients may return unused or expired medicines to the pharmacy.

During medicine production and after use of medicines, residues find their way to the environment. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment has described the medicinal product chain and determined possible reduction measures. The findings will be presented at the symposium of “No Pills in the environment”, an international partnership of research institutes and water boards, with the aim to reduce the pollution of water by pharmaceutical residues.

These results will be used to formulate an agreement between (amongst others) the Dutch national government, the pharmaceutical industry and water management authorities.  Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness and feasibility of different measures.

Surface water, groundwater and soil 

Pharmaceutical residues are mainly found in surface waters, but they are also present in groundwater and in soil. Even in drinking water these compounds can be measured. As the concentrations in drinking water are very low, effects on public health are not to be expected. However, harmful effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment on ecosystems have been reported

The presence of pharmaceuticals in water results in societal costs: costs for monitoring and purification. RIVM’s knowledge supports the whole chain from prevention to purification of water, in order to save costs and to reduce risks. This autumn RIVM will publish a multidisciplinary survey of possible measures in the medicinal product chain, based on both behavioural science and environmental science.