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Welcome to the SETAC Pharmaceutical Interest Group (IG). To joint this IG, make sure you are signed in to your SETAC account then click "Join Group” near the top of this page.

Mission and Purpose

The Pharmaceuticals IG exists to serve as a scientific resource to all stakeholders impacted by the topic of pharmaceuticals in the environment, and fulfils the following mission and purpose:

  • Serve as a focal point within SETAC as a means of involving the membership in research and discussions
  • Stimulate critical assessment in order to establish the best available science
  • Encourage the worldwide incorporation of the best available science and strategic approaches
  • Advance the overall understanding of the fate, effects, and potential environmental consequences of pharmaceuticals
  • Provide scientific support to ensure effective regulatory decision making
  • Provide a neutral platform and focal point for collaborative identification, evaluation, and resolution of scientific issues


The scope of the SETAC Pharmaceuticals IG 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 IG 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.


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. This focus on the 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 have reported the detection of low levels of pharmaceuticals in wastewater treatment plant effluent, manufacturing plant effluent and surface water and, to a more limited extent, groundwater, drinking water, soils, and sediment.

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

  • The bioactive properties of pharmaceuticals, which is the basis of their therapeutic (pharmacological) activity.
  • The potential for pharmaceuticals to be continuously present, albeit at low concentrations, due to 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 Pharmaceuticals Interest Group (IG) was established to advance the science and understanding of pharmaceuticals in the environment in October 2005.


The Pharmaceuticals IG will develop and implement a long-range strategic plan for stimulating and participating in the advancement of Pharmaceuticals-related environmental science. Roles and responsibilities focus on identification of research needs and fostering scientific exchange. In specific, the steps the Pharmaceuticals IG may take to meet its mission and purpose include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Preparation of technical papers (general information, issue specific)
  • Developing a specific area of the SETAC web site for the Pharmaceuticals IG
  • Developing a discussion forum on the SETAC web site
  • Sponsoring general pharmaceuticals technical sessions at meetings
  • Holding targeted (subject specific) discussion groups at meetings
  • Implementing short courses, for example in advance of either SETAC or other conferences
  • Communication of updates in the SETAC Globe

Recent Activities

Human Health Risk Assessment of antibiotic resistance development in the environment – State of the science 6 years after the Quebec workshop

Special Session at the SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting in Rome


The workshop held 2012 in Québec, Canada, aimed to define the scope and objectives of an environmental assessment of antibiotic-resistance risks to human health. Research needs were identified to enable human health risk assessments (HHRA) that focus on the role of the environment in the failure of antibiotics to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB). The participants proposed that environmental aspects of antibiotic-resistance development be included in the processes of any HHRA addressing ARB and because of limited available data, a multi-criteria decision analysis approach would be a useful way to undertake an HHRA of environmental antibiotic resistance that informs risk managers.

Since then a number of scientific studies have identified the potential negative impacts of ARB and antimicrobials on the environment. 

This is also explicitly emphasized in the EU- commission “European One Health Action Plan against antimicrobial resistance (AMR)” This publication highlights the growing concern of the development and spread of AMR in the environment.


The aim of the session in Rome was to inform of the state of the art 6 years after the Quebec workshop from different views.

The overall antibiotic use is higher in food-producing animals than in humans, but the situation varies across countries and according to the antibiotics. This was highlighted by Thomas Heberer from the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, Department Veterinary Drugs, Germany in his presentation of the role of antibiotic use in livestock, including the use of Human second line antibiotics in standard treatment in animals.

The second presentation focused on a so far neglected entry path into the environment, namely the production sites of pharmaceuticals and their global significance. Joakim Larsson, University of Gothenburg, gave an overview on the environmental impact and the development of antibiotic resistance of antibiotic production sites and possibilities for reducing the environmental load.

Finally J. Tell, Merck, Sharp & Dohme MSD, presented the AMR Industry Alliance Activities: Measurements and Possibilities of reducing the environmental impact


The presentations were followed by a Panel discussion led by Gerd Maack and Jason Snape


Singapore Workshop on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) – September 2016

Pharmaceuticals SingaporeDespite the widespread use and release of antibiotics and antimicrobial compounds in the environment, the awareness about its implications to development of AMR remain poorly understood, globally. Therefore, a two-day (12–13 September 2016) workshop on “Mapping the Lifecycle of Antibiotics in Southeast Asia” was organised by U.S. State Department, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey and SETAC, especially to provide a platform for participants from the countries of the Mekong River Catchment, where practices in aquaculture and farming activities use antibiotics and antimicrobial products. About 50 delegates from 12 different countries brought together different expertise including soil and environmental sciences, chemistry, public health, and social science. Several members of the PAG (e.g. Ed Topp, Alistair Boxall, Andrew Singer, Rai Kookana, Mike Meyer, Bryan Brooks) contributed to the workshop. Through presentations and breakout sessions, the workshop provided an excellent opportunity to learn and share how antimicrobial resistance affects Southeast Asian region. The representatives from the Lower Mekong Basin countries shared their local experiences and practical difficulties at ground level. It was highlighted that there is an urgent need to enhance the awareness of community (including industry and academia) about the issue to positively influence current unsafe practices of antibiotics use. Citizen science was identified to potentially play a major role in the region in this regards. Various workshop products are in preparation, including a guidance manual on approaches to develop policies for better information collection and implementing effective management practices in countries with low resource base.

ET&C Special Issue

ET&C Special Issue

Annual Reports

2015 Pharmaceuticals Interest Group Annual Report 

2014 Pharmaceuticals Interest Group Annual Report

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