On the 26 May, the Baltic Sea Centre replied to the European Commission’s consultation on the strategic approach to pharmaceuticals in the environment.
The consultation followed the roadmap published by the Commission in April which outlines two main objectives:
- To identify remaining knowledge gaps and uncertainties, and present possible solutions for filling them.
- To explore how to address the challenge to protect the environment and human health via the environment and at the same time safeguard access to effective and appropriate pharmaceutical treatments for human patients and animals, considering inter alia the opportunities for innovation.
The Commission is expected to adopt a Communication on the issue in the first quarter of 2018.
In Baltic Sea Centre’s reply the focus is primarily on the need to complement source control with end-of-pipe measures. Upstream measures may prove insufficient to reduce environmental levels below relevant toxicity thresholds.
As the roadmap acknowledges, there are still knowledge gaps. For example, lack of monitoring data and field studies on adverse effects at population level for freshwater and marine organisms. What we do know is that many pharmaceuticals are water soluble and persistent and as such they easily escape conventional wastewater treatment plants, spread in waterways and accumulate in the aquatic environment.
Advanced wastewater treatment may improve removal efficiencies to a level of 80%. As is the case with nutrients and organic matter today, treatment efficiency requirements or threshold levels of concentration of selected pharmaceuticals should be considered in new legislation related to wastewater such as in future revision of the urban waste water directive (UWWD).