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Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group (PAG)
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2011 PAG Annual Report

The presence and potential hazards of pharmaceuticals in the environment have received increasing international attention in the academic and popular press, as well as within the regulatory community. The increased focus on potential ecological effects from pharmaceuticals largely began as a result of a growing number of technical papers published from the late 1990s until the present that reported low levels of pharmaceuticals in Wastewater Treatment Plant effluent and surface water and, to a more limited extent, groundwater, drinking water, and sediment.

Environmental concerns about pharmaceuticals have consistently been linked to two factors:

  • The bioactive property of pharmaceuticals, which is the basis of their therapeutic (pharmacological) activity.
  • The potential for pharmaceuticals to be routinely present, albeit at low concentrations, from ongoing use.

Concerns have been raised about whether the current environmental risk assessment scientific methodology may need to be revised or replaced to evaluate the potential environmental impact of pharmaceuticals appropriately.

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group (AG) was established to advance the science and understanding of pharmaceuticals in the environment. It is a formally recognized forum within SETAC and was established by the SETAC World Council (SWC) in October 2005. Membership of the Pharmaceuticals AG is open to all SETAC members, as well as to all professionals interested in the topics addressed by the Pharmaceuticals AG. Please contact Alistair Boxall (alistair.boxall@york.ac.uk) if you have any questions.

The scope of the SETAC Pharmaceuticals AG is human and veterinary pharmaceuticals. Personal Care Products (PCP) and other emerging contaminants are not included since it is specifically pharmacological bioactivity that has called into question the adequacy of the existing environmental risk assessment science for pharmaceuticals. Scientific coverage of the Pharmaceuticals AG includes all fields pertinent to conducting effective environmental risk assessments for pharmaceuticals, such as transport, fate, exposure, effect, and impact analysis. All environmental compartments, such as aquatic, terrestrial, and biomass are included. You can find more background information on the Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group in this PDF.

Recent Activities

November 2011: Dr Thomas Knacker passed away earlier this week

We are very sad to announce that Dr Thomas Knacker passed away earlier this week. Thomas was one of the leading researchers in Europe in the pharmaceuticals in the environment area and was instrumental in organising many pharmaceutical sessions at SETAC meetings. Thomas was also guest editor for the recent IEAM special issue on pharmaceutical risk assessment. As well as being an excellent scientist, Thomas was also a wonderful friend to many of us and will be sorely missed. The PAG would like to express its deep condolences to Thomas's family as well as to his work colleagues at ECT.

November 2011: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Research Priorities in Australia and New Zealand

SETAC's Pharmaceutical Advisory Group (PAG) recently identified its "top 20" global research and policy questions about the effects and risks of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment. A one-day Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)/SETAC Australasia Workshop, held in Adelaide on 5 October 2011, brought together stakeholders from Australia and New Zealand (Aus/NZ) to discuss the top 20 questions and identify priorities on PPCPs in the Australasian environment.

The workshop was attended by 38 participants from Aus/NZ regulatory agencies, policy making institutions, water utilities, and academic and researcher institutions. The workshop began with a series of presentations providing an overview of current research. Dr Alistair Boxall provided a global overview. Drs Stuart Khan and Anu Kumar spoke about what's happening in Australia, and Drs Grant Northcott and Barrie Peake about New Zealand. Dr David Halliwell of the Water Quality Research Alliance presented an Australian water and wastewater industry perspective.

Workshop participants then formed breakout groups to discuss the relevance of the top 20 questions to the Australasian situation and identify major gaps. All of the top 20 questions were found to be relevant, but a number of factors specific to Australasia were identified as warranting further attention:

  1. The region has unique fauna (e.g. marsupials and monotremes), a greater number of endangered species, broader genetic diversity and developmental characteristics; and higher value receiving environments (e.g. Great Barrier Reef) than many other areas of the world. The implications for PPCP environmental risks are unclear.
  2. The region has a smaller but rapidly expanding human population, mainly concentrated in urban areas close to the coast. The ratio of livestock to people probably also differs from elsewhere.
  3. The region is home to a number of indigenous populations. This raises cultural sensitivities as native populations view water, soil and chemical contamination in a very different light (e.g. Maoris in NZ do not accept mixing of water sources).
  4. There is a greater reliance on water reuse including artificial recharge into groundwater aquifers than elsewhere in the world due to water scarcity. Many streams and rivers are dominated by effluent discharges.
  5. The region covers a very large geographical area with climatic extremes (e.g. tropical to temperate climates) and a diver geology which can affect soil types and profiles and hydrological flow patterns.

Based on the day's discussions, the participants recommended that a 21st question - how cultural perspectives can be incorporated into PPCP environmental risk assessment and management - should be added to the top 20 list.

A summary report describing the detailed discussion points for each of the top 20 questions is available from Dr. Rai Kookana, Rai.Kookana@csiro.au.

September 2011: East Asian Workshop 'Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment; What are the Research Needs?' Seoul National University, South Korea

An East Asian Workshop on pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment was held on September 30, 2011, at Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea. This workshop, which followed the recent PAG 'Global 20 Question Exercise', was organized by scientists from Seoul National University (SNU), the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tokushima University and the University of York and discussed key region-specific research questions around PPCPs in the environment. East Asia, which includes China, Japan, and Korea, holds more than a quarter of the world's population, and has a mixture of some of the most- and least- developed areas in the world. This raises region-specific challenges in terms of the exposure, effects and risks of PPCPs in the environment. The workshop, which was attended by 11 experts from the region and many graduate students from SNU, concluded that the major routes of exposure profiles for PPCPs in the region are likely to be very different from routes of exposure in N. America and Europe due to e.g. a reliance on aquaculture, a lack of sewer connectivity in some areas of E. Asia or differences in the way that animal and human faecal waste materials is handled and treated. Participants also recognised that the population in the region are much more reliant on natural remedies than elsewhere in the world. Finally, the attendees questioned the relevance of standard ecotoxicity tests, which may primarily reflect ecosystems in N. America and Europe, for use in risk assessment of PPCPs to E. Asian ecosystems. Overall, the workshop concluded, that it would be dangerous to 'read across' directly from experience form N. America and Europe over potential PPCP risks to the E. Asian environment and that much more region- specific research needed to be done on the topic. The attendees agreed that scientists in the region who are performing PPCP research needed to work together more closely and agreed to organise a follow-on workshop in September 2012 in Kumamoto Japan during the Asia Pacific SETAC meeting. A short paper describing the discussions and conclusions of the workshop is also under development. For further information on the workshop and to get involved in future regional activities on PPCPs and the environment, please contact Dr Kyungho Choi at Seoul National University (email: kyungho@snu.ac.kr).

August 2011: SETAC-Australasia Workshop on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: What are the Research Priorities in Australia and New Zealand? Adelaide, Australia 5th October 2011. Please find the workshop flyer here as a PDF. If you have any questions, please contact Rai Kookana (Rai.Kookana@csiro.au); Alistair Boxall (alistair.boxall@york.ac.uk).

April 2011: The Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group submitted (in cooparation with the Human Health Risk Assessment Advisory Group) scientific comments on two emerging policy issues to SAICM, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. The first set of comments concerned the "International Cooperation to Build Awareness and Understanding and Promote Actions on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals", which can be downloaded as a PDF here. The second set of comments related to "Environmental Persistent Pharmaceutical Pollutants", which can be downloaded here (also as a PDF). We welcome any comments, please send them via email to Alistair Boxall (alistair.boxall@york.ac.uk).

Thomas Backhaus, 2011