Pharmaceutical production releases antibiotics through wastewater and leakage with little to no company oversight and, if left unmanaged, could result in millions of deaths by 2050.
Based on findings from the not-for-profit Access to Medicine Foundation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that most pharmaceutical companies surveyed do not disclose how much wastewater is released or the effect it has on the environment. The Antimicrobial Resistant Benchmark 2018 report was released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January and evaluated companies’ responses to wastewater. Among 18 polled companies, only eight said they set limits for how much discharge could be sent into wastewater and fewer limited how much their suppliers could release.
Changing Markets, an NGO that campaigns against pharmaceutical waste, states there is next to no transparency surrounding pharmaceutical supply chains. “We know nothing about where our drugs are made. This is a scandal,” the NGO says.
The Bureau’s research in India and China shows discharge is a continuing problem. A global report confirms the finding that pharmaceutical waste drives antibiotic resistance. This follows a 2017 story where the Bureau reported on a study that found very high levels of superbugs and antimicrobial drugs in pharmaceutical companies’ wastewater.
Despite limited coverage of the dangers of pharmaceutical wastewater in corporate media, there has been little mitigation of the problem.
Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg, “Big Pharma Fails to Disclose Antibiotic Waste Leaked from Factories,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 24, 2018. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2018-01-24/big-pharma-fails-to-disclose-waste-leaked-from-factories
Anna Junker, “Four Calgary Co-op Stores to Install Bins for Disposal of Expired Pills.” Calgary Herald, June 16, 2017, http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/four-co-op-stores-to-install-bins-for-disposal-of-unused-expired-prescription-drugs
Alejandro Litovsky, “Antibiotic Waste Is Polluting India and China’s Rivers; Big Pharma Must Act,” The Guardian, October 25, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/25/antibiotic-waste-pollution-india-china-rivers-big-pharma-superbugs-resistance
Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg, “Superbug Risk Rises as Big Pharma Fails to Disclose Antibiotic Waste Leaked from Factories,” EcoWatch, January 24, 2018, https://www.ecowatch.com/superbugs-antimicrobial-resistance-2528327736.html
Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg, “Big Pharma Fails to Disclose Antibiotic Waste Leaked From Factories,” The Ecologist, January 24, 2018, https://theecologist.org/2018/jan/24/big-pharma-fails-disclose-antibiotic-waste-leaked-factories-madlendavies-tbij
Karen Steward, “Types of Pollution: Have You Considered Pharmaceutical Waste?” Technology Networks, February 2, 2018, https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/articles/types-of-pollution-have-you-considered-pharmaceutical-waste-297177
Student Researcher: Heidi Atter (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluators: Janelle Blakley and Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)
Editor’s Note: For previous Project Censored coverage of this topic, see “Antibiotic Resistant ‘Superbugs’ Threaten Health and Foundations of Modern Medicine,” story #6 in Censored 2018.