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ERAPHARM — Result In Brief

Project ID: 511135
Funded under: FP6-SUSTDEV
Country: Germany

Risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment

Concern over the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment has resulted in greater research into the fate and effects of these bioactive substances. The EU-funded ‘Environmental risk assessment of pharmaceuticals’ (Erapharm) project investigated previously unstudied exposure routes involving terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment
Erapharm increased existing knowledge and procedures for the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, using as its basis EU regulatory frameworks and the work of earlier projects. Researchers used information from mammalian studies to target ERAs and determine how best to assess and model the persistence of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Project partners also suggested how best to identify high-risk pharmaceuticals and assessed the effects and risk of exposure from products transformed in the environment.

Analytical chemistry techniques for radio-labelled and non-labelled compounds together with computer models were used to determine exposure to human and veterinary pharmaceuticals. Analytical techniques were developed that enabled scientists to examine selected pharmaceuticals in water, soil, dung, invertebrate tissue and fish plasma. These techniques were used to conduct laboratory-based studies into sorption, transformation and biodegradation in water, sediments, soil and sludge. Findings were used as the bases of a series of recommendations for improving current guidelines for assessing the fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Techniques were developed for carrying out initial hazard screening of pharmaceuticals. Researchers used a range of bioassays to examine selected beta-blockers for humans and veterinary compounds for combating parasites of animals. Methods for determining the effects on terrestrial and aquatic bacterial communities and potential development of resistance due to low-level, long-term exposure were also investigated and applied to different classes of test antibiotics.

Consortium members prepared a scientific paper which summarised their recommendations regarding the ERA of pharmaceuticals. A targeted ERA of pharmaceuticals was proposed that took advantage of available non-environmental data and the specific properties of pharmaceuticals such as biologically active substances. Project partners also laid the foundations for a scheme that could quickly and cost effectively assess the risks of transformation products.

The work conducted by Erapharm project partners will help improve the quality of life of people living in the EU by providing scientists with a greater understanding of how pharmaceuticals enter and are transformed by the terrestrial and aquatic environments and the possible risk they may present.

The key findings of the Erapharm project were published in a Special Issue of the Journal ''Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management'' (Vol. 6, Suppl. 1 (2010), p. 511-613.

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