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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec;113(12):1705-11.

Household disposal of pharmaceuticals as a pathway for aquatic contamination in the United kingdom.

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Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


Pharmaceuticals are produced and used in increasingly large volumes every year. With this growth comes concern about the fate and effects of these compounds in the environment. The discovery of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment has stimulated research in the last decade. A wide range of pharmaceuticals has been found in fresh and marine waters, and it has recently been shown that even in small quantities, some of these compounds have the potential to cause harm to aquatic life. The primary pathway into the environment is the use and disposal of medicines; although much of the research in the area currently focuses on the removal of pharmaceuticals during sewage treatment processes, disposal via household waste might be a significant pathway requiring further research. To investigate the household disposal of unused and expired pharmaceuticals as a source of pharmaceutical compounds in the environment, we carried out a survey and interviewed members of 400 households, predominantly from southeastern England. We used the information on when and how they disposed of unfinished pharmaceuticals to construct a conceptual model to assess the pathways of human pharmaceuticals into the environment. The model demonstrated that disposal of unused pharmaceuticals, either by household waste or via the sink or toilet, may be a prominent route that requires greater attention.

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