Assessing the exposure risk and impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment on individuals and ecosystems

K.E. Arnold, A.B.A. Boxall, A.R. Brown, R.J. Cuthbert, S. Gaw, T.H. Hutchinson, S. Jobling, J.C. Madden, C.D. Metcalfe, V. Naidoo, R.F. Shore, J.E. Smits, M.A. Taggart, H.M. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals is increasing. Over the past decade, there has been a proliferation of research into potential environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment. A Royal Society-supported seminar brought together experts from diverse scientific fields to discuss the risks posed by pharmaceuticals to wildlife. Recent analytical advances have revealed that pharmaceuticals are entering habitats via water, sewage, manure and animal carcases, and dispersing through food chains. Pharmaceuticals are designed to alter physiology at low doses and so can be particularly potent contaminants. The near extinction of Asian vultures following exposure to diclofenac is the key example where exposure to a pharmaceutical caused a population-level impact on non-target wildlife. However, more subtle changes to behaviour and physiology are rarely studied and poorly understood. Grand challenges for the future includedevelopingmore realistic exposure assessments forwildlife, assessingthe impacts ofmixtures ofpharmaceuticals in combination with otherenvironmental stressors andestimating the risks frompharmaceutical manufacturing and usage in developing countries. We concluded that an integration of diverse approaches is required to predict 'unexpected' risks; specifically, ecologically relevant, often long-termand non-lethal, consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment for wildlife and ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20130492
JournalBiology letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original authors and source are credited.


  • wildlife
  • endocrine-disrupting chemicals
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • vultures
  • risk prediction
  • bioindicators

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