Getting to grips with the pharmaceutical industry’s waste water

A transnational partnership has found ways to prevent pharmaceutically loaded waste water from entering the water cycle. 

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„Waste Water Treatment With Activated Carbon“   ©Rupert Oberhäuser „Waste Water Treatment With Activated Carbon“ ©Rupert Oberhäuser

The ERDF-funded PILLS project worked on point source treatment at hospitals to investigate how concentrated, pharmaceutically burdened wastewater can be treated so as to reduce its discharge into the aquatic environment. Elimination techniques regarding antibiotic resistant bacteria were also studied.

The joint initiative brought together scientific and practical partners, who studied how to treat waste water from point sources, such as hospitals. These experts also looked at introducing various initiatives to reduce discharge. The process had the involvement of hospitals, suppliers, water boards, individuals, and other key stakeholders.

While concentrations of pharmaceutical residues detected in water are very low, information on their effects on the environment is limited. The project team tracked the spread of problematic substances in the aquatic environment, while testing ecotoxicity and point source treatment to find a way to deal with pharmaceutical micro-pollutants.  The project also addressed much needed behavioural change.

The cooperation has significantly increased awareness of the issue among politicians and the general public. 

Moreover, the involved communities have learned a great deal from their experience. This was shown in a survey taken after a two-year training and education campaign in the town of Dülmen on sustainable consumption and proper disposal of pharmaceuticals, involving 13 schools, pharmacists, medical professionals and sports clubs.

The findings of the project have also influenced the decision making process at the European Commission. In fact, a strategic approach on how to deal the impact of pharmaceutical residues on the environment is imminent.


Total Investment and EU Funding

Total investment for the project “PILLS – Pharmaceutical Input and Elimination From Local Sources” was EUR 8 353 528, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund is contributing EUR 4 060 880 from the Operational Programme “North-West Europe” for the 2007-2013 programming period.


Draft date

04/01/2016