Pharmaceutical residue can lead to environmental damage. A large proportion of the medicines that we use are released into the sewer via excretion. Some substances are only partially removed by wastewater treatment plants, so that they ultimately end up in surface water or drinking water.
This project will involve the development of a system that analyses the environmental risks of medicines. The resulting database will contain details of the environmental properties of the active ingredients in medicines, such as the degree of degradability and toxicity to fish. This database will be linked to a decision-making system that can estimate the expected exposure and effects of substances in and on the environment.
Mapping the medical risks
Since 2006, the pharmaceutical industry has had to analyse the environmental risks of new medicines that they wish to market in Europe. The European Medicines Agency has overseen this requirement. But there are now some 1,500 to 1,800 substances on the market that predate 2006 for which there was no environmental risk assessment. The researchers are hoping that policy makers, pharmaceutical companies, water authorities, drinking water companies and hospitals will subsequently re-examine these medicines and that this will result in new measures that are better able to protect the environment.
The tools that are being developed may also theoretically be used to develop environmentally friendlier medicines, but the researchers will need to explore whether this is practically feasible. They will achieve this by encouraging discussions between drug pharmaceutical development companies and environmental scientists