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Call for action against pharma pollution

Published: 15th Dec, 2022


According to a research paper, Pharmaceutical Pollution is an overlooked but urgent issue that needs coordinated action from across the pharmaceutical, healthcare, and environmental sectors.


  • The research paper highlighting the important issues of Pharmaceutical Pollution was published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.
  • Almost half or 43% of the world’s rivers are contaminated with Active Pharmaceutical (API) Ingredients in concentrations that can have disastrous ramifications on health.

Active Pharmaceutical (API) Ingredients:

  • Active ingredients are the substances in drugs that are responsible for the beneficial health effects experienced by consumers.
  • The active ingredient in a pharmaceutical drug is called an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).
  • The active ingredient in a biological drug is called a bulk process intermediate (BPI).

What is Pharmaceutical Pollution?

  • It is mainly a form of water pollution, caused by pharmaceutical drugs and their molecules which reach the aquatic environment (groundwater, rivers, lakes, and oceans) through wastewater.

Factors resulting in pharmaceutical Pollution

Impact of Pharmaceutical Pollution

  • Drug Usage Behaviour (Ingested and Expelled)
  • Effluents from pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Aging infrastructure (such as water treatment plants which cannot filter our too small molecules)
  • Sewage overflows (drugs in urine and excreta)
  • Agricultural runoff (antibiotic use in livestock)
  • Effects on Fish and Aquatic Life
  • Disruption in Sewage Treatment Processes
  • Effect on Drinking Water
  • Long-term Effects on the Environment
  • Effects on Wildlife
  • Antibiotic Resistance



About the status of pharmaceutical pollution in India

  • Bulk Drug Capital of India: In India, the dominant pharma industries are located in the city of Hyderabad (known as the ‘Bulk Drug Capital of India).
    • Every third of the antibiotic manufacturing industries examined by the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board violate the discharge limits prescribed for Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP).
  • The groundwater is highly contaminated in the regions where industries are situated.
  • World’s Third-Largest Producer: India is the world’s third-largest producer of pharmaceuticals, in which about 3000 drug companies and about 10500 manufacturing units are involved.
    • Pharmaceutical production has been considered one of the most polluting industries in various parts of India.
  • Multi-Drug Resistance Infections: It has been estimated that about 60000 newborns die annually in India because of multidrug-resistance infections, where pharmaceutical water pollution with antimicrobial drugs is responsible for that.


  • Investment in public education on the proper disposal of drugs
  • Tougher Regulations to limit large-scale medicine flushing in hospitals
  • Additional research to assess the potential human effects of pharmaceutical pollution.
  • Limiting bulk purchases will ensure only the required amount is supplied
  • Proper trashing must be preferred over flushing

Government Initiatives:

  • National Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance 2017: It was proposed to tackle the problem related to limits on antibiotics in industrial waste.
  • Zero Liquid Discharge Policy: Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has introduced guidelines to various pharma industries to achieve zero liquid discharge.
  • Continuous Monitoring of Effluents: The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has also announced that industries must install devices to monitor the effluent continuously.

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