Environmental Impact of the Pharmaceuticals Industry
Article written by: Claire Hart
in some form date back to the Middle Ages, but in modern days there are
hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter medications available. Not
only do humans consume pharmaceuticals, but livestock consumes millions
of doses, as well. The global pharmaceutical market continues to grow
year by year, and with it environmental concerns pertaining to not just
production, but also consumer waste and disposal.
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that at least half of all Americans take a minimum of one prescription drug, with one in six taking three or more. This doesn’t include the frequent use of over-the-counter medications for easing a headache, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or one of the many other maladies people suffer from on an occasional basis. Unused medication piles up in many households and waits for its final disposal. But where does it usually end up? Unfortunately, not always in the right place.
disposed medications, considered a toxic waste that finds its way into
streams and drinking water, negatively impact humans, wildlife, and
agriculture. At this time, many unknowns remain regarding the possible
adverse effects on ecological receptors and humans from exposure to
pharmaceutical pollutants in the environment. However, the possible risk
to aquatic organisms due to exposure to these pollutants in the
environment has been identified as a primary concern.
medications intended for discard, pharmacists are expected to comply
with a federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA),
as well as other regulations, for both hazardous and non-hazardous
pharmaceuticals. However, many hospitals, unfortunately, continue to
dispose of pharmaceuticals, except chemotherapy agents, by simply
throwing them down the drain or sending them to the landfill.
to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the preferred method for
destruction of household pharmaceuticals is incineration. If household
garbage goes to an incinerator, medication gets disposed of safely. If
household garbage goes to a landfill, it is not preferred over taking
them to designated pick up sites, but is still preferable over flushing
them down the toilet.
topic that has not been discussed is pharmaceutical waste that comes
from us, people. After taking medications each day, a large percentage
of the active ingredients does not metabolize and ends up in human
waste. Excess drugs in the bloodstream leave the body through urine and
fecal matter, and the excreted chemicals flow with the sewage out of our
homes to the streams and lakes. How can we help this form of pollution?
Is it possible at this time?
Pollution Concern around the World
America represents approximately 38% of the global pharmaceutical market
to Nature, an international weekly journal of science, “Many of
Europe’s rivers are home to male fish that are ‘intersex’ and so
display female sexual characteristics, including female reproductive
anatomy. Some males also produce vitellogenin, a protein normally found
in eggs that can be induced in males by hormone exposure. In one of the
largest studies of the problem in 2004, the
very recent case of pharmaceutical pollution by a large company is a
recent scandal in
companies around the world are increasing production of both
prescription and non prescription pharmaceuticals for a growing market.
As people continue to increase their intake of medication, so must they
increase awareness of pharmaceutical pollution, and hold the health care
industry accountable, as well.
pollution can be stopped for the most part, but currently there are no
commonly used methods of preventing it from human or animal waste.
Instead, we must concentrate on ways of proper disposal and actually
using them. We meaning consumers, hospital staff, pharmacy staff,
scientists, and pharmaceutical companies.
people in many states in the
SHOULD pharmaceuticals ideally be disposed of? Currently high
temperature incineration at suitably permitted facilities is the safest
disposal method for toxic leftover medications. This is the method the
pharmaceutical industry uses to dispose of their unwanted medicines. As
the dangers of pharmaceutical pollution are becoming more and more
apparent, awareness of regulatory institutions and pharmaceutical
companies rises, as well. With more disposal centers, regulation, and
education of the population, many of detrimental impact of
pharmaceutical waste might be successfully negated in the near future.