A recently released comprehensive database from the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) has shown the ubiquity of pharmaceutical substances in the environment in five UN regions around the world. The database, containing 123,761 detailed entries, compiles measures of environmental concentrations of human and veterinary pharmaceutical residues reported worldwide in surface water, groundwater, tap/drinking water, manure, soil, and other environmental matrices.
The database was compiled from a literature review of 1,026 original publications and 150 review articles. Over 600 pharmaceuticals were found in 71 countries.
Concern about the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment on human and the environment itself is growing internationally. These pharmaceuticals enter the environment at all stages of their life cycle – production, usage, and disposal, and can even end up (as this database has shown) in drinking water. They also accumulate in vegetables and fish, and can have devastating effects on wildlife, as was the case with Diclofenac (a painkiller) in India.
There is also a very real human cost to the build up of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Of the pharmaceutical residues found in the environment, antibiotics have some of the most serious consequences, and there are major public health concerns about the presence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. It is estimated that 300 million premature deaths will occur over the next 35 years as a consequence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) alone.
This latest database from the German Federal Environmental Agency shows that the extent of pharmaceuticals in the environment might be far wider than previously thought. All stakeholders need to be encouraged to reduce the release of pharmaceuticals into the environment.