HCWH Europe calls on Member States and the European Commission to tackle the problem of pharmaceuticals in the environment

Brussels 10/02/2014 – Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe released today a snapshot report that presents the results of a HCWH Europe’s pan European survey suggesting that schemes for the collection and disposal of unused medicines across Europe are not effective as too many pharmaceuticals end up unnecessarily in the environment. The snapshot report adds into the work of HCWH Europe that today also launched a resource centre on pharmaceuticals in the environment.

As hundreds of different pharmaceutical residues are being discovered in waterways around the world, concern is increasing about the harm that these might have to human health and the environment. HCWH Europe is particularly concerned that, when discussing the problem of pharmaceuticals in the environment, the debate at the EU level only focuses on the costs of downstream measures, like upgraded waste-water treatment technologies, neglecting other type of measures that can easily be taken to prevent the entrance of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

This is why HCWH Europe carried out, in the autumn of 2013, a survey of EU citizens’ awareness and action on the disposal of unwanted medicines in the capital cities of six EU countries (Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal and the United Kingdom). In most countries, more than half of the respondents were aware that collection systems existed, but only a percentage of the interviewees were using them. Despite the high number of respondents throwing unused medicines into the rubbish bin, luckily only a very small percentage flushed them down the toilet or sink. In general, the respondents believed that there is lack of information on how to proceed with the disposal of unwanted and unused medicines. In addition, from HCWH Europe’s research results it was not clear whether all EU countries have implemented a collection scheme. In fact, no information was found for Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta.

HCWH Europe believes that EU legislators have an important role to play in protecting the environment from the impact of pharmaceuticals and they should urgently address the limitations of the EU regulatory frameworks. In the case of collection schemes, harmonisation throughout Europe could contribute to increased efficiency, reporting and transparency and could facilitate education and awareness. HCWH Europe also notes that the pharmaceutical industry and associated actors should be made accountable for the impact of pharmaceuticals to the environment and, as a consequence, responsible for the safe disposal of pharmaceutical products.

The launch of the resource centre is also part of HCWH Europe's aim to increase public understanding of the issues revolving around the impact of pharmaceuticals to the environment and to highlight ways to reduce this impact by promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship. Maria José Amaral, HCWH Europe's Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Policy Officer states: "We saw the need for finding and sharing information around the issue, which is essential to raise awareness and educate the general public on the impacts of these substances in the environment."

The European Commission, in agreement with what foreseen in Directive 2010/84/EU and Regulation (EU) No 1235/2010 (relating to drug safety and pharmacovigilance), has been working, for the past couple of years, on a report on the scale of the problem of pharmaceuticals in the environment, without yet reaching any conclusions, as the report and the launch of the public consultation on this issue have been considerably delayed. HCWH Europe hopes that both its snapshot report and the resource centre will contribute to pressing EU legislators to act urgently to address this environmental challenge and the European Commission to publish their own report on pharmaceuticals in the environment without any further delays.

To view HCWH Europe snapshot report click here and to navigate HCWH Europe’s resource centre pharmaenvironment.org
For any enquiries on HCWH Europe work on pharmaceuticals, please contact Dr Maria Jose Amaral at maria.jose@hcwh.org, +32 (0)2 5030481.