Last week on October 10th I had a speech in a workshop held in Nordiwa, the Nordic Wastewater conference. My speech was about a recently published status report concerning pharmaceuticals in the Baltic Sea region. I was one of the authors of the report. I would like to thank my co-authors Pär Hallgren and Petra Wallberg from Sweco Environment AB.

After my 5-minute talk there was a workshop where this topic was further discussed. I will gather main points of that lively conversation into another blog post. Main points of my speech are gathered below and you can watch the whole thing here:

Pharmaceuticals end up in the Baltic Sea

Twenty years ago only handful of people were concerned about pharmaceuticals ending up in the environment. Ten years ago we already knew that wastewater treatment plants were the major source of these compounds in rivers and lakes but it was a common believe that they were not present in the Baltic Sea. Today we are wiser on that matter and know that pharmaceuticals residues from our society are found in Baltic Sea waters, sediments and biota.

Report was made in order to compile data

Lots of research has been done around the world about this subject and also in the Baltic Sea region. Thus, Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission, HELCOM) together with Policy Area Hazards of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR). It serves as a case study within the framework of UNESCO Emerging Pollutants in Water Series under UNESCO-IHP’s International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ) Project on ’Emerging Pollutants in Wastewater Reuse in Developing Countries.’

The goal of the project was to compile the data gathered in the Baltic Sea region about the occurrence, concentrations and pathways of pharmaceuticals into the environment. Report was just recently published and you can download it here.

HELCOM established pharmaceutical expert group

The purpose of this report was not give final answers on this matter but simply to compile data and list issues and data gaps. This was done in order to give direction to researchers and other operators in the field where to focus next. As a result, HELCOM has also established an expert group (GC Pharma) to support policy-making and dialogue on pharmaceuticals in Baltic waters.

More than 70 pharmaceuticals have been detected in the Baltic Sea

In the report, nearly 50 000 data points were reported from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, Estonia and St. Petersburg. It was clear that the main source of pharmaceuticals in the environment was discharges of untreated and treated wastewater in the rivers or directly to the sea. Altogether nearly 170 individual pharmaceuticals were measured in wastewater, sea water, sediment or biota. When considering the number of individual pharmaceutical compounds, more were detected in the wastewaters but still in the Baltic Sea, 74 of the compounds were found in at least one of the matrices. For example, diclofenac which is a EU Watch list compound and a common pain killer ibuprofen were often detected in marine environment.

Biota samples have been analysed from cod, perch, flounder, eel and blue mussels. Pharmaceuticals were found in all these species and the highest concentrations of pharmaceuticals have been detected in blue mussels proving that pharmaceuticals bioconcentrate in Baltic Sea biota.

Further information

Niina Vieno
PhD, Water Expert
phone: +358 50 544 8431