Impact of pharmaceuticals on the Environment
Most pharmaceuticals we use are excreted via urine and feces in unchanged form or as metabolites and eventually end up in the drain. The pharmaceutical residues can then reach lakes, the sea and groundwater, despite passage through wastewater treatment plants, as the wastewater treatment plants are not built to clear pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals affect biological processes. They are also often designed to withstand biodegradation and can therefore remain in the environment for a long time. There are reports of effects on fish, as well as that measured concentrations of antibiotics in wastewater treatment plants can select for antibiotic resistance.
Some pharmaceuticals have been found in low concentrations in drinking water, which is a warning sign that the current handling of pharmaceuticals may lead to health and environmental problems in the future.
Access to healthy water is a prerequisite for good health. Since society’s use of chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, is continuously growing, the risk is also increasing that these chemicals will return to us in our food and water supply through nature’s ecocycle.
We have little knowledge of the long term effects that continuously supplied trace quantities of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals could have on our development, our ability to resist disease and our wellness in general. Therefore caution is advisable. In other words, even if we currently do not have scientific proof that pharmaceuticals in nature can cause health problems, it could be wise to reduce our unintentional exposure to them as much as possible, i.e., adhere to the Precautionary Principle.
The Precautionary Principle
According to the Precautionary Principle, measures can be taken if there is reason to believe that a product or a method of production involves unacceptable risks to the health of human beings, animals, plants and the environment – even if there is no definitive scientific proof of such an effect.
The precautionary principle is a part of EU law and is valid in all member countries.