With nearly $800 billion in drugs sold worldwide, pharmaceuticals are increasingly being released into the environment. The “green pharmacy” movement seeks to reduce the ecological impact of these drugs, which have caused mass bird die-offs and spawned antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
The standard that new drugs be safe for human consumption was first enshrined in U.S. regulations in 1938, after an antibacterial drug dissolved in a poisonous solvent killed 100 children. Now, armed with a range of evidence suggesting that wildlife and human health may be threatened by pharmaceutical residues that escape into waterways and elsewhere, a growing band of concerned ecotoxicologists and environmental chemists are calling for yet another standard for new medications: that they be designed to be safe for the environment.
The movement for “green pharmacy,” as it has been dubbed, has grown as new technology has allowed scientists to discern the presence of chemicals in the environment at minute concentrations, revealing the wide dispersal of human and veterinary drugs across the planet.