SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  3 November 2011
Volume 12 Issue 11

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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Research Priorities in Australia and New Zealand

Rai Kookana (CSIRO) and Alistair Boxall (University of York)

SETAC’s Pharmaceutical Advisory Group (PAG) recently identified its "top 20" global research and policy questions about the effects and risks of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment. A one-day Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)/SETAC Australasia Workshop, held in Adelaide on 5 October, brought together stakeholders from Australia and New Zealand (Aus/NZ) to discuss the top 20 questions and identify priorities on PPCPs in the Australasian environment.

The workshop was attended by 38 participants from Aus/NZ regulatory agencies, policy making institutions, water utilities, and academic and researcher institutions. The workshop began with a series of presentations providing an overview of current research. Dr Alistair Boxall provided a global overview. Drs Stuart Khan and Anu Kumar spoke about what’s happening in Australia, and Drs Grant Northcott and Barrie Peake about New Zealand. Dr David Halliwell of the Water Quality Research Alliance presented an Australian water and wastewater industry perspective.

Dr Anu Kumar (CSIRO) discussing the potential ecotoxicological impacts of PPCPs in the Australian environment.

Workshop participants then formed breakout groups to discuss the relevance of the top 20 questions to the Australasian situation and identify major gaps. All of the top 20 questions were found to be relevant, but a number of factors specific to Australasia were identified as warranting further attention:

  1. The region has unique fauna (e.g. marsupials and monotremes), a greater number of endangered species, broader genetic diversity and developmental characteristics; and higher value receiving environments (e.g. Great Barrier Reef) than many other areas of the world. The implications for PPCP environmental risks are unclear.
  2. The region has a smaller but rapidly expanding human population, mainly concentrated in urban areas close to the coast. The ratio of livestock to people probably also differs from elsewhere.
  3. The region is home to a number of indigenous populations. This raises cultural sensitivities as native populations view water, soil and chemical contamination in a very different light (e.g. Maoris in NZ do not accept mixing of water sources).
  4. There is a greater reliance on water reuse including artificial recharge into groundwater aquifers than elsewhere in the world due to water scarcity. Many streams and rivers are dominated by effluent discharges.
  5. The region covers a very large geographical area with climatic extremes (e.g. tropical to temperate climates) and a diver geology which can affect soil types and profiles and hydrological flow patterns.

Based on the day’s discussions, the participants recommended that a 21st question – how cultural perspectives can be incorporated into PPCP environmental risk assessment and management – should be added to the top 20 list.

A summary report describing the detailed discussion points for each of the top 20 questions is available from Dr. Rai Kookana.

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