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  • by Trevor Loveday

Inter-government body warns policy on pharmaceutical pollution is "inadequate"

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that policy worldwide is failing to contain the growing threat to water supplies and rivers from pharmaceutical pollutants. It has called for national and global action and proposed measures to to curb the environmental impact of the drug sector.

In a recent report the OECD pointed to a shortfall in policy and lack of strategy in containing the damaging effects on the biosphere of pharmaceutical production and use. In reported: “Current policy approaches to manage pharmaceutical residues are inadequate for the protection of water quality and freshwater ecosystems upon which healthy lives depend.” The organisation criticised existing measures for being largely reactive and substance-specific while pollution from livestock and fish farming “remains largely unmonitored and unregulated.”

The report Pharmaceutical Residues in Freshwater : Hazards and Policy Responses included four plans addressing pharmaceutical pollution from its source to tap (see below). It said collaboration would be pivotal to success and “ a focus on preventive options early in a pharmaceutical’s life cycle, may deliver the most long-term and large-scale environmental benefits.”

Four, “proactive strategies” proposed by the OECD

  • Improve monitoring and reporting on the occurrence, fate, toxicity, and human health and ecological risks of pharmaceutical residues in order to lay the ground for pollution reduction policies. Consider the inclusion of environmental risks in the risk-benefit analysis of authorisation of new pharmaceuticals, and risk intervention and mitigation approaches for pharmaceuticals with high environmental risk.

  • Implement source-directed approaches, such as the sustainable design and procurement of pharmaceuticals, to prevent the release of pharmaceutical residues into water bodies.

  • Introduce use-orientated approaches, such as disease-prevention, improved diagnostics and restrictions on pharmaceuticals with high environmental risk, to reduce inappropriate and excessive consumption of pharmaceuticals.

  • Implement end-of-pipe measures, such as advanced wastewater treatment, public collection schemes for unused pharmaceuticals, and education campaigns, to safely dispose and remove pharmaceutical residues.

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