BTO rapport - BTO 2015.041

Pharmaceuticals in the environment - science policy


Pharmaceuticals are omnipresent in the aqueous environment. Two decades of intensive
research has led to a large knowledge base on the sources, occurrence, fate and risks of
pharmaceuticals in the urban water cycle. Nevertheless, uncertainties remain, and questions
such as “what is the effect of lifelong human exposure a complex mixture of
pharmaceuticals at very low concentrations?”, and “what will be the exact effect of the same
complex mixture of pharmaceuticals to a specific ecosystem?”, cannot be fully answered by
scientists. This study illustrates the current state of knowledge and what is still uncertain,
how uncertainties are perceived by the general public and policymakers and how
uncertainties complicate implementation of knowledge by policymakers. Subsequently,
relations between science and policy are analyzed for historical environmental problems.
This analysis suggest that complex environmental problems require better interaction
between scientists and policymakers, where scientists explain results with their uncertainties,
and policymakers use this knowledge to define what is safe and what precautions are
required. Insights on the interaction between science and policy helps the Dutch drinking
water sector to apply their knowledge to protect drinking water sources.

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