Drugs on Tap: Managing Pharmaceuticals in Our Nation's Waters

56 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2015 Last revised: 15 Aug 2018

See all articles by Gabriel Eckstein

Gabriel Eckstein

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: April 8, 2014


Pharmaceuticals in the environment and public water supplies are believed to have serious impacts on human and environmental health. Current research suggests that exposure to certain drugs and their residues may result in a variety of adverse human health effects. Other studies more conclusively show that even minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the environment can have detrimental effects on aquatic and terrestrial species. Unfortunately, the cost of removing these pernicious substances is out of the financial reach of most municipalities and wastewater and drinking water treatment operators.

Despite the concerns, little effort has been made to develop broad management, mitigatory, or disposal prevention strategies to address the potential threat from medications and their residues in the environment or in our drinking water. Neither the United States federal government nor the states have been able to formulate an adequate response.

The purpose of this Article is to further awareness about the lack of governmental attention to the growing problem pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical residues pose to the environment and the nation’s freshwater supplies. After describing the scope of the problem, as well as the deficiencies and loopholes in the existing statutory and regulatory regime, the Article contends that focusing regulations on pharmaceuticals once they reach the waste stream is an inadequate and ineffective approach to reducing pharmaceutical pollutants in the environment. Rather, federal and state governments should implement mechanisms that target the earlier lifecycle stages of pharmaceuticals so as to prevent pharmaceuticals and their residues from reaching the natural environment and, thereby, to reduce the risks to people, communities, species, and ecosystems.

Keywords: pharmaceutical, drugs, water, water pollution, micropollutant

JEL Classification: I18, K32, L65, O13, Q25, Q28

Suggested Citation

Eckstein, Gabriel, Drugs on Tap: Managing Pharmaceuticals in Our Nation's Waters (April 8, 2014). NYU Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 23, 2015, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-13, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2628047

Gabriel Eckstein (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

United States
817-212-3912 (Phone)

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