Conflicts of objectives between the application of medications and environmental protection

When it comes to the use of veterinary and human pharmaceuticals there is an unwanted side effect: the pharmaceutical substance is not entirely degraded but excreted and thus emitted into the environment via the wastewater. The research project describes and analyses the resulting conflicts of objectives between health protection and environmental protection. The findings will then be presented in an expertise.

Research approach

Within the framework of a discourse field analysis the project team investigates the debate on possible conflicts of objectives to date and in how far it is anchored within the societal discourse. It will also be investigated what role the precautionary principle plays in this discourse according to which damages of the environment and the human health should be avoided or reduced as far as possible. Accompanying the discourse field analysis the scientists will conduct expert interviews in order to clarify open or contradictory aspects. The results will be analyzed separately for human and veterinary medicines.


Human and veterinary pharmaceuticals are continuously being released into the environment and today are therefore almost omnipresent in our water. Between the various protection goals, conflicts are thus arising on a regular basis: in simple terms, the administration of pharmaceuticals is either aimed at public health care respectively the treatment of diseases or food security for the population (veterinary medicines). This is conflicting with the protection goal of preserving the environment: because of the pharmaceutical substances emitted into the environment, individual species may suffer damages (for example reproductive disorders) or the ecosystem functions can be affected.


The ISOE was appointed to prepare the expertise by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Department of Economics) in the context of the Helmholtz Centre’s work for the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag.


Deutscher Bundestag (Hg.) (2020): Bericht des Ausschusses für Bildung, Forschung und Technikfolgenabschätzung (18. Ausschuss) gemäß § 56a der Geschäftsordnung. Technikfolgenabschätzung (TA) - Arzneimittelrückstände in Trinkwasser und Gewässern. Klauer, Bernd unter Mitarbeit von Christoph Aicher, Tanja Bratan, Ulrike Eberle, Thomas Hillenbrand, Klaus Kümmerer, Wolfgang Reuter, Johannes Schiller, Nona Schulte-Römer, Engelbert Schramm, Felix Tettenborn, Carolin Völker, Anna Walz (auch erschienen als TAB-Arbeitsbericht, 183). Drucksache, 19/16430. Köln: Bundesanzeiger Verlag


2014/12 – 2015/04