Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.23.27 AMIn casual and professional conversations, people have been voicing their concerns that the environment is awash in pharmaceuticals. The Royal Society (Biology) has put together an special issue focusing on the issue. The provides an overview on the state of the knowledge around pharmaceuticals in the wild. From the introduction:

Recent studies have revealed that pharmaceuticals, both human and veterinary, disperse widely in aquatic and terrestrial environments with uptake into a range of organisms. Pharmaceuticals are designed to have biological actions at low concentrations rendering them potentially potent environmental contaminants. The potential risks that pharmaceuticals pose to the health and long-term viability of wild animals and ecosystems are only beginning to be assessed and understood.

This theme issue introduces the latest research investigating the risks of environmentally relevant concentrations of pharmaceuticals to vertebrate wildlife. In some cases the effects can be dramatic, such as the near extinction of three species of vulture in India after eating the carcasses of livestock that had been treated with the anti-inflammatory diclofenac. However, this issue also shows that effects can be more subtle but still have potentially significant impacts. Changes to behaviour of fish and birds after exposure to low concentrations of psychiatric drugs can alter foraging patterns, activity levels and risk taking. With thousands of pharmaceuticals in use globally, this issue presents approaches for prioritising which products have the potential to cause harm to wildlife and ecosystems. Given the many benefits of pharmaceuticals, there is a need for science to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals.

This issue arose from a Royal Society-funded Research Fellow International Scientific Seminar held in April 2013. An open access meeting report was published in Biology Letters in August 2013. It is compiled and edited by Kathryn E. Arnold, A. Ross Brown, Gerald T. Ankley and John P. Sumpter.

Articles include:

Kathryn E. Arnold, A. Ross Brown, Gerald T. Ankley, and John P. Sumpter, “Introduction: Medicating the environment: assessing risks of pharmaceuticals to wildlife and ecosystems.”

Richard F. Shore, Mark A. Taggart, Judit Smits, Rafael Mateo, Ngaio L. Richards, and Steve Fryday, “Review article: Detection and drivers of exposure and effects of pharmaceuticals in higher vertebrates.” Open Access.