Pharmas – Ecological and human health risk assessment of antibiotics and anticancer drugs found in the environment

Pharmas analyses ecological and human health risks of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Thirteen institutions from six countries exemplarily examine anticancer drugs and antibiotics. 

Research approach

Alongside a realistic risk assessment, the project aims at exploring potentials for implementing an EU-wide classification system for pharmaceuticals in terms of their environmental impact.

Risk assessment

A first step will identify concentrations to which humans and the environment are exposed. Modelling will determine exposure via drinking water and food. A second step will explore effects on people, animals and microorganisms, focusing on mutagenic impacts of anticancer drugs and the development of resistances to antibiotics.

In addition, possible cumulative effects will be explored. Furthermore, decomposition products of relevant substances will be tested for their properties in order to determine potentials for the environmentally considerate design of pharmaceuticals.

Building on this improved knowledge basis, a risk assessment will be conducted, which in contrast to previous studies will account for variances in exposition, vulnerability and composition of substances. ISOE is significantly involved in this part of the project, along with the Swedish Environmental Research Institute and the Ecologic Institute.

Classification system

Relevant stakeholders such as physicians, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and water management institutions, environmental agencies, patients’ organisations etc. will be interviewed on their perception of the problem. This will provide an opportunity to identify obstacles and chances for a classification system resulting from their varying interests. Using regional case studies, the project team intends to evaluate how such a system might affect prescriptions, sales and consumption of pharmaceuticals as well as their production.


Assessment of the ecological and human health risks constituted by pharmaceuticals when emitted into the environment continues to entail many uncertainties. It is still widely unknown (1) whether and what kinds of effects those substances have in very low concentrations, especially when it comes to highly vulnerable people, (2) what effects occur when substances interact,  and (3) to what extent their transformation products or metabolites with differing characteristics and effects can be found in the environment.


    An EU-wide Environmental Classification System for Pharmaceuticals: A Delphi-Survey with experts in Germany, Hungary and the United Kingdom. Konrad Götz and Linda Strelau (2013). In cooperation with Jutta Deffner, Thomas Hefter, Mátyás Rajnai 

    More information and transfer products

    Project Partners

    • Brunel University (UK), Gesamtprojektleitung
    • Armines Ecole des Mines d’Alès (F)
    • University of Gothenburg (S) 
    • Radboud University Nijmegen (NL) 
    • Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) (S)
    • Universitätsklinikum Freiburg (D)
    • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)(UK)
    • École des hautes études en santé publique (EHESP) (F)
    • Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) (NL)
    • Ecologic Institute (D)
    • Technical University of Denmark (DTU) (DK)
    • Anjou Recherche, Veolia, Environment Research and Innovation (F)


    2011/01 – 2014/03