Author: Caroline Schmidt
Pharmaceutical drugs have many uses and impacts, from treating mild symptoms to severe illnesses. However, all of the medicine humans take has environmental costs. First, like any mass factory production, medication production emits high levels of carbon into the air. Carbon emission from pharmaceutical production causes unhealthy air quality, and contributes toward climate change.When drugs are taken, most of the chemicals are absorbed and metabolized by our cells. Trace amounts of substances pass through our bodies as waste, and end up in the water. The processes that clean water remove only about 95% of pharmaceutical elements, so trace amounts of chemicals enter both aquatic ecosystems and drinking water. Waste in the water affects the land around it as well. Nearby soils are also affected by pharma pollution. Some pharmaceutical chemicals are consumed by both terrestrial and aquatic plants, which are eventually eaten by an animal, and these chemicals make their way up the food chain. Although pollution from medicine affects the environment globally, it is more abundant at the site of its production and where it was released into the water.
An example of how drugs affect the environment is shown by a report from Hyderabad, India where they are currently facing a severe pharmaceutical pollution crisis. Pharmaceuticals is a very fast growing industry in India. Over 2.5 million people are employed in this industry. Their drugs are produced in large quantities, which are sold to other countries. For example, 19 companies in the city sold their antibiotics to Europe. In addition, Hyderabad accounts for 50% of the drug production in India. Most of the lakes in the area have foamed over due to pollution, taking away the nearby villagers’ primary water sources. The foam was investigated, and substances such as zinc, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, copper, and hexavalent chromium were found. In the air, pollution has caused major respiratory problems for residents. 13 areas of the city are over their threshold limit of pollution, according to the TSPCB. In addition, the soil quality in this city is very poor. Pharmaceutical pollution in Hyderabad and other mass production sites is a growing problem that many companies are working towards solving.
I remember learning a bit about this topic in one of my classes last semester. I wish information like this was more well known as pharmaceutical pollution can be so dangerous to ecosystem and people who live in the area.