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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Canadian Environment: Research and Policy Directions

2.0 Introduction and Workshop Purpose

It has been known for over 20 years that pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) can enter the environment, however only in the last 10 years have analytical methods become sufficiently sensitive to identify and quantify their presence in wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents, surface waters, drinking water, ground water, biosolids, agricultural manures, and biota. The issue of PPCPs in the environment has become established with the public, but the science is still emerging.

Environment Canada and Health Canada hosted a multi-stakeholder workshop in 2002, entitled “Assessment and Management of PPCPs in the Canadian Environment”, to identify the major research and risk management needs. This workshop brought together invited scientists and policy specialists from Canadian, American, and European government and non-government organizations. It resulted in the identification of an initial set of research priorities as well as new policy thrusts, most notably the implementation of a “National Science Agenda” focused on the emerging issue of PPCPs in the environment.

A second multi-stakeholder workshop, sponsored by Environment Canada, Health Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Canadian Water Network, was convened in 2004. This workshop, entitled “Toward a Monitoring Network: a Technical Workshop for PPCPs in the Environment”, examined in greater detail three areas of PPCPs research (analytical methods, sampling, and effects) and recommended strategies to achieve the 2002 research agenda. The recommendations from this workshop emphasized the importance of strengthening domestic and international partnerships and improving the transfer of knowledge as a whole.

These workshops catalyzed Canadian research on the occurrence and effects of PPCPs in the Canadian environment, and there has been considerable effort to determine whether PPCPs pose an ecological or human health risk. Little is known about the effects of these substances on non-target organisms, many of which differ from mammals in their receptor sensitivity, and in the roles various metabolic pathways play in their development and reproduction. Endpoints, such as neurobehavioral changes, can be very subtle but nonetheless lead to unanticipated, profound outcomes on non-target populations. Research continues to demonstrate the effects of single compounds on various aquatic organisms under laboratory conditions at environmentally relevant concentrations; however it is not known how these results translate into the complexity of mixtures and environmental conditions. Analytical methods have been developed for a wide variety of compounds and labeled standards have become commercially available in the last 5 years; however large-scale method comparison and validation exercises to improve the accuracy and precision of quantitative measurements have not yet been conducted. Options to reduce environmental exposure to PPCPs, particularly through wastewater discharges and land application of biosolids and manures, are being examined; however risk management strategies and Best Management Practices (BMPs) are not fully developed. Environmental effects, accurate quantitation, and risk management alternatives are all necessary facets of comprehensive ecological risk assessment. The 2007 workshop was convened to explore the current state of both the science and policy aspects of PPCPs in the Canadian environment.

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