CREW report on pharmaceuticals in Scotland’s water environment

The Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) published the full report and national database from the 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-UHI, with 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). Data were compiled on 60 substances in 11 distinct environmental matrices into a project database of 3074 data points representing unique substance location-data source combinations.

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 and appendices can be found here:

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 will be developed from the database to support further monitoring and develop solutions by researchers, environmental regulators, healthcare practitioners, 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.

Citation: Helwig, K., Aderemi, A., Donnelly, D., Gibb, S., Gozdzielewska, L., Harrower, J., Helliwell, R., Hunter, C., Niemi, L., Pagaling, E., Roberts, J., & Zhang, Z. (2022). Pharmaceuticals in the water environment : baseline assessment and recommendations CRW2017/16.