Life cycle impacts and environmental fate of pharmaceuticals: The fate of APIs

Routes into the Environment

There are three main routes by which pharmaceutical molecules enter the environment, which are shown in Figure 1:

  • Normal patient use;
  • Improper disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals and related medical devices such as patches, implants etc. into landfill or water courses;
  • Point source pollution at sites of manufacture/formulation.

A fourth route which is starting to become more prevalent (or at least better detected) is the illegal or off-label use of pharmaceuticals resulting in accumulation in unintended species such as plants and animals.