Parliament fails to set limits for pharmaceuticals in the environment

Today’s vote in the EU parliament on the updated directive on priority substances in waters was a missed opportunity to control the presence of certain pharmaceuticals in European water bodies.

The Members of the European Parliament in agreement with EU member states, voted against putting limits on selected pharmaceutical substances in water bodies. Instead, the substances, two oestrogen chemicals used in contraceptive pills (17-alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) and 17-beta-estradiol (EE)) and an anti-inflammatory chemical used in painkillers (diclofenac), will only be added to a "watch list" of emerging pollutants, without any further measures to control their levels.

The Commission’s initial proposal to add 15 new substances to the water priority substances and establish environmental quality standards was based on a solid body of research that screened more than 2000 substances that could pose a risk to aquatic ecosystems. On today's vote the MEPs left the pharmaceuticals out, and only set a limit to the other 12 substances that will be in place from 2018, with the aim of reaching a good chemical status for these substances by 2027. The result of the vote shows the importance of continuing to inform the European Parliament and Council of EU about the risks of pharmaceuticals in the environment and of implementing a strategy that specifically addresses the concerns of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, working to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. Visit the HCWH website for more information.