Environment and health

Pharmaceuticals and the Environment

Pharmaceuticals, such as medicines, can end up in the environment in many ways. The main route is through excretion (when medication passes through your body).
To a lesser extent also manufacturing discharges and the improper disposal of medicines – such as flushing them down the toilet or pouring them in the sink – can also lead to pharmaceuticals entering the environment 1.

Human Health

As human medicines contain active pharmaceutical ingredients and have been designed to impact the human body to prevent or alleviate a medical condition, they could also have unforeseen effects on the environment. While isolated examples of adverse effects have been identified, the general impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment is generally unknown. However, research is continuously being carried out to evaluate any potential risks.
Nonetheless, human medicines are meant for people and therefore their unnecessary exposure in the environment should be minimised.
There is no evidence of harmful concentrations of active pharmaceutical ingredients in the European drinking water2.

Proper Disposal

Most European countries have special medication disposal schemes in place in order to prevent pharmaceuticals from ending up in the environment. Also, always follow the instructions that come with your medication. Never take medication prescribed for someone else or medication that has expired. Do not flush medicines down the toilet or sink.


Ecological Institute’s Video on “Drugs we wash away: Pharmaceuticals, Drinking Water and the Environment” funded by the European Commission, DG Research, part of the FP7 project “PHARMAS”:

1 BIO Intelligence Service, Study on the environmental risks of medicinal products, 2013 :