Pharmaceuticals Sold In Sweden Cause Serious Environmental Harm In India, Research Shows
Many of the substances in the most common medicines are manufactured
in India and China. Some of these factories release large quantities
of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical substances into the environment.
There is an obvious risk of these releases leading to resistant bacteria.
Research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg,
Sweden, shows that Sweden is a major consumer of pharmaceutical substances
from factories that fail to adequately treat their wastewater. As
it is difficult to find out where the pharmaceutical substances are
manufactured and how much is released, it is impossible at present
for consumers to avoid contributing to this environmental harm.
These findings are presented in the medical journal Regulatory Toxicology
and Pharmacology. The research of the Swedish group recently became
headline news in New York Times, Washington Post and Times of India.
”We used to think that pharmaceuticals that ended up in the environment
mostly came from the use of the medicines and that the substances
were dispersed through wastewater. We now know that certain factories
that manufacture substances release very large quantities of active
substances," says associate professor Joakim Larsson of the Sahlgrenska
Academy in Gothenburg,Sweden, one of the research scientists behind
The water from the pharmaceutical industries is highly toxic
Joakim Larsson has visited the industrial zone near Hyderabad, India,
an important centre for the manufacturing of pharmaceutical substances.
Here his research team has taken samples of the water discharged from
a treatment plant that treats wastewater from around 90 pharmaceutical
factories before it is released.
”We have previously shown that the "treated" water contained exceptionally
high levels of various pharmaceutical substances, including several
broad-spectrum antibiotics. We estimated that the treatment plant
released 45 kilograms of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin in one day,
which is equivalent to five times the daily consumption of Sweden,”
Such high levels of antibiotics in the water are a cause for alarm
as there is an increased risk of spawning resistant bacteria, an issue
of global concern. This can lead to those antibiotics that are invaluable
today becoming ineffective sooner and not killing the bacteria of
tomorrow. In addition, the environment is affected locally by the
pollution; In another study by Larsson’s team, published this week
in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, they show that effluent
diluted as much as 500 times strongly inhibit the growth of frog tadpoles.
The substances manufactured in Hyderabad are sold in Sweden
Where the active substance in a pharmaceutical product is manufactured
is not public information, but the Swedish Medical Products Agency
can grant exemptions for research purposes. The researchers analyzed
data from the Medical Products Agency for all 242 products on the
Swedish market that contained any of nine specific substances*. They
found that 123 products contained substances from India and for 74
of the products, 31 per cent, the active substance was manufactured
by one of the factories that send their wastewater to the treatment
plant outside Hyderabad that was studied.
”The analysis shows quite clearly that a large number of medicinal
products on the Swedish market is made by manufacturers that send
their effluent to a treatment plant that does not treat their water
satisfactorily,” says Larsson.
” Sweden, which is reputed to have some of the strictest environmental
legislation in the world, like other western countries therefore bears
a shared responsibility for the environmental problems the medicines
we consume cause in India, for example,” says Larsson.
But it is impossible for the individual consumer to know today whether
a substance in a medicine he or she needs to take may have caused
environmental problems in manufacturing. ”It is therefore important
that the production chain is made transparent. If consumers are given
an opportunity to choose pharmaceutical products they know to be produced
in an environmentally friendly way, this could encourage manufacturers
to become more environmentally friendly,” says Larsson.
* The selected substances were: cetirizine, ciprofloxacin, citalopram,
levofloxacin, losartan, metoprolol, norfloxacin, ofloxacin and ranitidine
Larsson et al. Transparency throughout the production chain – a way
to reduce pollution from the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals? Regulatory
Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2009.01.008
Carlsson et al. Effluent from Bulk Drug Production is Toxic to Aquatic
Vertebrates. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 2007; preprint
(2009): 1 DOI: 10.1897/08-524.1
Adapted from materials provided by University of Gothenburg
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