COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE European Union Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment
1. Article 8c of the Priority Substances Directive (2013/39/EU which amended the Environmental Quality Standards Directive, 2008/105/EC) requires the European Commission to propose a strategic approach to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical substances. This Communication delivers on that obligation.
2. The treatment of many diseases in humans and animals relies on access to effective pharmaceuticals. At the same time, pollution caused by some pharmaceuticals is an emerging problem, with evidence of risks to the environment and, in relation to antimicrobial resistance, potentially to human health. Pharmaceutical residues have been found in surface and ground waters, soils and animal tissues across the EU at various concentrations depending on the pharmaceutical and the nature and proximity of source(s). Studies have shown direct effects on wildlife from some pharmaceuticals found in water and soil. However, no clear link has been established between pharmaceuticals present in the environment and direct impacts on human health. The Commission cites the World Health Organisation (WHO) report which says the weight of evidence from several recent studies points to it being very unlikely that pharmaceuticals in drinking water pose a threat to human health at the low concentrations found. However, it notes the issue of pharmaceutical residues, especially the possible effects of long term exposure on vulnerable populations, and recommends a precautionary approach. The WHO also notes that the presence of several antimicrobial (antibiotic and antifungal) pharmaceuticals, which have been found in water and soil, may play a role in accelerating the development, maintenance and spread of resistant bacteria and fungi.