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A national plan for medicinal residues in water

The presence of human and veterinary pharmaceutical residues in aquatic environments is a fact, but their effects and the resulting risks are not well known. The formulation of a strategy to improve knowledge on their impacts on environments and to assess the risks for the environment and human health is one of the priorities of the national plan for medicinal residues in water, launched by the Ecology and Health ministries.

According to a study by Anses (French agency for food, environmental and occupational health and safety) published in February, one quarter of samples drawn from water exiting drinking-water production systems contain quantifiable traces of specifically targeted medicinal substances. The national campaign to measure 45 human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, representing the main pharmaceutical classes, revealed the simultaneous presence of between one and four substances in the samples. The most frequently encountered are carbamazepine (anticonvulsant) and oxazepam (anxiolytic). Untreated water intended for drinking-water production systems contains the same substances, occasionally at even higher concentrations. These results confirm on the national level (continental France and overseas territories) those previously obtained in studies on three regional river basins.

A potential, emerging risk

These substances (antibiotics, antidepressants, beta blockers, contraceptives, etc.) are continuously released to aquatic environments, notably via wastewater-treatment plants. Other sources include emissions from the fine-chemical sector, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and clinics, veterinary clinics, animal and fish farms, etc. For a number of years, isolated data have signalled a potential, emerging risk due to the presence of these substances in natural surface and groundwater and in treated water intended for human consumption. Their effects are not well known and the interactions between medicinal residues and other pollutants have not been fully studied.

A national plan to assess risks and limit environmental contamination

Assessment of the risks for humans and ecosystems is required, as is a reduction in the release of medicines to water. That is the double goal of the national plan for medicinal residues in water, set up by the Ecology and Health ministries. The plan was designed in conjunction with institutional stakeholders, researchers, health professionals, a number of associations grouping firms, water users and patients, and environmental-protection groups. The proposed measures are grouped in three main sections, 1) risk assessment, 2) risk management via efforts to reduce the release of medicinal substances to the environment and 3) reinforced research efforts.

Medicinal residues requiring priority monitoring The very first step will be to draw up a list of pharmaceutical substances requiring more research and monitoring. They will be selected according to criteria that will soon be defined by the scientific support group.

Onema participated in preparing the national action plan and will take part in the major projects.

Contact: pierre-francois.staub@onema.fr

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