Pharmaceuticals in the environment

What is Pharmaceuticals in the environment at AstraZeneca?

Patient excretion, improper disposal of unused medicines and discharges from drug production result in the release of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) into the environment. Potential impacts include effects on wildlife and human health from low-level and/or long-term exposure.

Our approach

We lead our industry in the management of PIE-related topics. We were the first company to publish targets describing safe discharge limits for drug production and formulation facilities that were externally verified. We were also the first company to publish environmental risk assessment (ERA) data on our website and we are the only company with a published approach to ecopharmacovigilance (EPV). EPV ensures that we review emerging information that might change the way we assess and manage the environmental risks of our medicines. Learn more in our EPV video.

In many cases, our APIs are not detected in the environment. When our APIs have been detected, in almost all cases these APIs pose low or insignificant environmental risk. There can be some location-specific environmental risks for particular pharmaceuticals, especially in regions where there may be inadequate sewage treatment and high populations of people discharging waste into rivers with low dilution conditions. Our ongoing EPV monitors whether increases in the global population, an ageing population demographic, increased access to medicines in low- and middle-income countries, urbanisation and/or changes in disease epidemiology will change these risks in the future.

AstraZeneca works in partnership with academic thought leaders to develop new tools and knowledge to help understand the environmental risk that pharmaceuticals pose. We are also committed to supporting the next generation of environmental scientists. In 2021, we co-sponsored ten PhD students in collaboration with United Kingdom Research Innovation, who are conducting research on critical issues that underpin the protection of our natural environment.  

Learn more in Product sustainability.

Our key target and progress

See the Sustainability Data Summary for all metrics and methodology.

EcoPharmacoVigilance Dashboard

As a result of patient use and manufacture, pharmaceuticals are found in the aquatic environment, typically in nanograms per litre concentrations.  AstraZeneca conducts a robust environmental risk assessment for its products and reports a programme of safe discharge from manufacturing facilities.

As part of its ongoing EcoPharmacoVigilance AstraZeneca also undertakes a quarterly search of the published, peer-reviewed scientific literature for reports of detection of environmental residues of our active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in order to understand real world environmental risks. Of 39 APIs included in the search, reports of measured data have been found for 27 of those APIs. These measured environmental concentrations (MECs) have been extracted and formatted for transparent visualization. The EcoPharmacoVigilance Dashboard presents these MECs in a risk relationship relative to the Predicted No Effect Concentrations (PNECs) used for environmental assessment.

This dashboard was last updated in February 2022 based on literature searches performed up to Q3 2021 and now has 32,011 data entries. The last update included first reports of one additional API.

The EcoPharmacoVigilance Dashboard is developed and maintained by Simomics Ltd. To get the best experience, we recommend using the latest version of Chrome, Edge, Safari or Firefox.

Our stories

Assessing environmental risks earlier in drug development
Advocating for science-based policy at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC)

Learn more from this video

Learn more about Pharmaceuticals in the environment in our Sustainability Report.