The European Commission has published today an overview of the progress made in implementing the actions of the Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment. The strategic approach presented last year aims to counteract the negative effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, covering their whole lifecycle from design and production through use to disposal. Findings show that overall, good progress has been made so far, and some actions presented in the strategy are already well advanced or have even been completed.
Several European Green Deal initiatives, as well as the Pharmaceutical Strategy adopted today, will help to achieve the remaining actions. These Green Deal initiatives include actions that will play a role in reducing the environmental footprint of pharmaceuticals, especially the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, the From Farm to Fork target on reducing the EU sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture, and the forthcoming Zero Pollution Action Plan.
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:
It is essential that medicines are safe and effective for our health, however we should be aware of the environmental impact they may have. Last year we presented a plan to reduce the entry of pharmaceuticals into our rivers and soils for our own benefit and in order to protect the wildlife and the environment. I am happy to report that after one year and a half, we’re on good track to implement all its actions, with all relevant EU policies working in the same directionto achievea zero pollution ambition under the EuropeanGreen Deal.
The overview shows that implementation of some actions is already quite advanced:
- The revised Surface Water Watch List, under the Water Framework Directive, was adopted in August 2020 and included additional pharmaceuticals. This watch list functions as an early warning system for pollutants in surface waters.
- Legal acts are currently being drafted under the Regulation on veterinary medicinal products, which aim to promote a more prudent use of antimicrobials in animals, and implement a wide range of concrete measures to fight antimicrobial resistance.
- New guidelines on hazardous household waste have been developed. Pharmaceuticals are also being considered in the impact assessment for the potential revision of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.
- The last LUCAS soil survey sampled pharmaceutical concentration and antimicrobial genes in soil, with results expected in 2022.
- The EU has started work with Member States’ health ministries, for instance to ensure health professionals consider environmental impacts of medication.
Additionally, the EU is funding several current and future research projects on pharmaceuticals in the environment.
Pharmaceuticals are found in surface and groundwater across Europe that is used for irrigation and drinking water production and that is essential for wildlife. Overwhelming evidence shows that pharmaceuticals have adverse effects on the environment. In March 2019, the European Commission presented the “Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment” which includes actions to counteract these effects, covering the whole lifecycle of pharmaceuticals from design and production through use to disposal.
It identifies over 30 individual actions in six areas including actions to raise awareness and promote prudent use, improve training and risk assessment, gather monitoring data, incentivise green design, reduce emissions from manufacturing, reduce waste and improve wastewater treatment.
- Publication date
- 25 November 2020
- Directorate-General for Environment