Medicines affects the environment

-Josefin Johansson


Substances in medicines leak to the sea and make impact on fishes

The first time I heard about fish getting affected by medicine was in a tv programme a few years ago. I heard that birth control pills made, I think it was bass, infertile. They also mentioned that other medicines had other affects I cannot recall but I remember I found it interesting at the time. However, I have not heard so much about this subject since that tv programme. But a few weeks ago I heard about fish getting affected by anti-anxiety medicine on the news. This week, in order to write this week’s post about the environment and the sea, I searched for more information about this research on the web.

According to one article from DT, Dalarnas tidningar, written in January this year, new research from Umeå University is showing that fish, in this case salmon, that is exposed to anti-anxiety medicine are more likely to swim from rapids/streams to the ocean at an earlier stage than non-exposed fish. This is believed to be due to reduced fear among the salmons exposed to medicine. The experiments on the salmons were made in a laboratory with the same concentrations of medicine as found in southern Europe. In Sweden, this distribution isn’t as bad since our leakages to the environment isn’t near the amount that can be found in Italy for example.

In the newspaper DN we can read that the concentrations of the substances in fish is about 100-200 times more concentrated than in the human body. Even if the medicine is diluted when mixed with sea or ocean water it is not hard finding remains of medicine when water tests are made according to the newspaper Sydsvenskan. Scientists also found that the salmon trouts living near the outflow from the cleaning facilities have a higher concentration of hormones than women taking birth control pills. In Sydsvenskan you can also read that British studies have shown an increase in sex change or infertility for fishes living near such facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Naturvårdsverket, claims that there are over a thousand active substances in different medicines in Sweden today, and new substances are introduced every year. They also say that there is still a lot more to learn about the biological effects by medicine in the ecosystems due to inadequate knowledge in this field of study. The leaking of medicines to the seas and oceans are not only affecting fish in the way described above, it is a human and environmental threat if multiresistant bacteria get the opportunity to evolve.

According to Gustav Hellström in DT, improvements in cleaning techniques at the cleaning facilities is preferred, instead of reduce the usage of medicines. In 2017 Naturvårdsverket have, by order of the Swedish government, to present advanced ways to clean sewage water. Malmö County was in May 2016 taking actions against medicine in the waters according to Sydsvenskan. Trials with ozone removing technology have started off in one cleaning facility but more facilities waits for further trials. A major drawback for most municipalities when doing these investments is that the costs of improved cleaning technology is hard to forecast. When comparing with other countries that invested in clean water, such as Switzerland and Germany, the households would need to pay about 700 kr each year for better water cleaning systems. According to Carina Svensson, Sydsvenskan, the best way to take care of the problem is to demand responsibility through tougher legislation for the medical companies.

I believe it is a real challenge to face the fact that new substances continuously are entering the medicine market (and thus the oceans) because this means that new separation technologies for sewage water are needed almost non-stop. I believe more general knowledge to the public is a vital part for people to accept that these cleaning investments are needed.

Also, more knowledge about what might happen to our ecosystems are needed so that we can protect particularly vulnerable species or areas. Medicine in the waters is uncontrolled and an important factor for our seas and oceans wellbeing.


DN 2007

DT 2017

Naturvårdsverket 2017

Sydsvenskan 2016



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