SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 June 2012
Volume 13 Issue 6

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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: What are the Key Questions?

Alistair Boxall and Bryan Brooks

The Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group (PAG) held a special symposium on 20 May at the 6th SETAC World Congress/SETAC Europe 22nd Annual Meeting in Berlin. This full-day meeting was attended by more than 65 people and comprised six plenary lectures. Active discussion sessions provided a unique forum to examine the state of the science for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment.

The morning session kicked off with a presentation by Alistair Boxall of the outcomes of a 2011 PAG workshop held at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. This horizon-scanning workshop focused on identifying the top 20 research questions for understanding the effects and risks of PPCPs in the environment. An article about the 20 questions exercise, "Pharmaceutical Advisory Group—Prioritisation of Issues, Research Needs, and Policy Development," ran in the 15 September 2011 Globe. Alistair Boxall and Dan Caldwell (Johnson & Johnson) then reviewed various approaches and explored case studies to prioritise pharmaceuticals of highest potential environmental concern. Chris Metcalfe (Trent University) provided perspectives on some major research needs to better understand pharmaceutical exposures in surface waters.

During the afternoon session, Bryan Brooks examined ways to approach several research questions related to effects of pharmaceuticals that were identified at the Niagara-on-the-Lake workshop. Ed Topp (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) presented a stimulating talk on the topic of antibiotic resistance, including research needs identified during a recent (March 2012) workshop run by the Canadian Microbiology Society that involved international experts from academia, industry and government. Reinhard Lange (Bayer) rounded out the plenary presentations with an overview of current regulatory requirements for prospective environmental risk assessments of pharmaceuticals. Reinhard also spent some time describing the options available to industry for managing the risks of pharmaceuticals.

The meeting concluded with a thought-provoking discussion of next steps to develop integrated research strategies for addressing the top 20 research needs. A manuscript from the 20 questions workshop is now in press and accessible online in Environmental Health Perspectives. Also accessible there are supplemental materials describing the question solicitation and prioritisation methodology employed, the full list of 403 questions received as the result of the solicitation, the criteria used to select the questions to be taken forward to the workshop, and the list of 101 selected questions that were considered by the workshop’s breakout groups.

The PAG has been very actively engaged in prioritising questions about the effects and risks of PPCPs in the environment. In addition to the Niagara-on-the-Lake workshop, the Berlin symposium, and the Environmental Health Perspectives paper, the PAG was involved in the 5 October 2011 Adelaide workshop, held by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and SETAC Australasia. That workshop 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. An article about the Adelaide workshop ran in the 3 November 2011 Globe. For more on the SETAC Global PAG, please visit

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