In a move to tackle concerns over the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment, the One Health Breakthrough Partnership has been set up to investigate the scale of the problem in Scotland. It will also research ways into creating ‘greener’ pharmaceuticals, as an estimated 100 million treatments are prescribed in Scotland every year.

The concerns are over the risk that compounds from the pills, having passed through the body, are then being passed into rivers, lochs, and the sea, and that waste treatment plants are unable to filter them out.

Some of the potential solutions for more environmentally friendly treatments include using bark or grain leftover from the whiskey distillery industry to absorb potentially harmful materials from wastewater.

The partnership is comprised of NHS Highland, the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, Glasgow Caledonian University and Scottish Water, as well as others. They state that there is no evidence that points to contamination reaching natural water sources being harmful to human health.

However, Professor Stuart Gibb of the University of the Highlands and Islands said to the BBC that research in North America showed changes to the development of sexual organs in fish. “This is not pollution by a conventional route. These drugs are simply doing what we’ve chosen them to do. It’s just that they are working in the wrong place on the wrong species.”

The Partnership will look at how the drugs behave in our waterways, and how they breakdown, which is currently an unknown element. Scottish Water is improving their filtrations methods, some of which have been successful.

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