Potential Upstream Strategies for the Mitigation of Pharmaceuticals in the Aquatic Environment: a Brief Review

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Active pharmaceutical ingredients represent a class of pollutants of emerging concern, and there is growing evidence that these pollutants can cause damage to the aquatic environment. As regulations to address these concerns are expected in developed nations, decision-makers are looking to the scientific community for potential solutions. To inform these regulatory efforts, further information on the potential strategies to reduce the levels of pharmaceuticals entering the aquatic environment is needed. End-of-pipe (i.e., wastewater treatment) technologies that can remove pharmaceuticals exist; however, they are costly to install and operate. Thus, the goal of this brief review is to look beyond end-of-pipe solutions and present various upstream mitigation strategies discussed within the scientific literature. Programs such as pharmaceutical take-back programs currently exist to attempt to reduce pharmaceutical concentrations in the environment, although access and coverage are often limited for many programs. Other potential strategies include redesigning pharmaceuticals to minimize aquatic toxicity, increasing the percent of the pharmaceuticals metabolized in the body, selecting less harmful pharmaceuticals for use, starting new prescriptions at lower dosages, selecting pharmaceuticals with lower excretion rates, and implementing source treatment such as urine separating toilets. Overall, this brief review presents a summary of the upstream preventative recommendations to mitigate pharmaceuticals from entering the aquatic environment with an emphasis on regulatory efforts in the USA and concludes with priorities for further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-160
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent environmental health reports
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer International Publishing AG.


  • Green pharmaceuticals
  • Management
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Regulation
  • Take-back


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