CREW publication on pharmaceuticals in Scotland’s water environment, joint report by OHBP members

The Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) published the summary of a Phase 1 project assessing baseline data and potential environmental risk of pharmaceuticals in Scotland’s water environment. Research was performed by the James Hutton Institute, Glasgow Caledonian University, and the Environmental Research Institute. Project oversight by NHS Highland, Scottish Water, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

This research provides the first comprehensive representation of Scotland’s baseline position for pharmaceuticals in the environment. A database of pharmaceutical concentrations in wastewater and surface water was collated from a variety of data sources (grey and published literature, PhD theses, regulatory datasets) over a 5 year period (2014-2019). Monitoring gaps were identified by compound and water matrix, and spatial trends were identified by source proximity (wastewater treatment plants and hospitals), catchment, and geographical location. Environmental risk was determined in relation to antimicrobial resistance and ecotoxicological impacts, through comparison with threshold values.

Report summary can be found at:

The results show limited monitoring in rural regions of Scotland, particularly the Highlands and Islands. Monitoring data was lacking for discharges from potential sources, including septic tanks, manufacturers, and landfills, which may introduce pharmaceuticals into the environment. In terms of environmental risk, several compounds were identified as posing a higher risk related to ecotoxicity and antimicrobial resistance.

A visualisation tool (Phase 2 project) will be developed from the database to support further monitoring by researchers, regulators, and the water industry. The database will also be used by the One Health Breakthrough Partnership (OHBP) in assessing the effectiveness of interventions in reducing pharmaceutical occurrence in the environment.

This project was commissioned by CREW to support the OHBP in carrying out its work.