Pharmaceutical Screening Project

Project background

Pharmaceuticals are medicines that are available in stores or by prescription and are used to treat illness in humans and animals. The presence of pharmaceuticals in water is of increasing concern to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) because they may cause harm to of pills and a glass of water

Pharmaceuticals enter rivers, lakes, and groundwater when human waste, animal waste, or discarded medications move from storm water systems, sewer systems, or septic tanks into water.

Once in groundwater, pharmaceuticals do not break down rapidly. Pharmaceuticals in lakes and rivers may break down, but some have been shown to negatively affect the health of fish and other aquatic life. Wastewater and drinking water treatment may not completely remove pharmaceuticals. As a result, these chemicals can be found in drinking water sources for Minnesotans.

Due to the increasing pressures on water resources and the increasing use of pharmaceuticals, it is important to address the presence of pharmaceuticals in water and the possible health concerns for Minnesotans.

Project details

A detailed risk assessment using standard MDH methods can take many months for each individual chemical, so it is not a practical way to rapidly evaluate the hundreds of pharmaceuticals of concern. We are using a rapid assessment of the risks from pharmaceuticals in water. This new approach allows us to evaluate hundreds of pharmaceuticals that have been found in water.

To better understand possible health concerns, we are learning what use and characteristics of a pharmaceutical cause it to be present in water. Factors we consider for each pharmaceutical include the ability of the chemical to cause cancer, safety factors for vulnerable populations, and environmental impacts such as the ability of the pharmaceutical to stay in the environment unchanged (persistence), and the potential of the pharmaceutical to build up in body tissue over time (bioaccumulation). Using this information, we will determine which pharmaceuticals have the greatest potential for harm when they are present in drinking water.

Project applications

As a result of this project, MDH will:

  1. Create new water quality values to protect human health
  2. Understand the risks that pharmaceuticals currently being found   in water pose to someone drinking the water
  3. Prioritize and select pharmaceuticals for further study and a more complete risk assessment
  4. Make recommendations for pharmaceuticals to include in future water quality monitoring programs.


Updated Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 09:48AM