A new study by Pollution Probe and the Clean Water Foundation examines what is known about pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes, their pathways, and impacts on Great Lakes aquatic systems and human health.

Pharmaceuticals provide important benefits to society, such as helping treat disease and improve quality of life in humans and animals. However, the widespread use of these substances has increased their discharge into the environment and the Great Lakes. Concerns are increasing about these emerging water pollutants and their potential adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems and human health.

“Pharmaceuticals are finding their way into the Great Lakes but our understanding of the sources, pathways, and impacts of pharmaceutical pollution is limited and there is no coordinated approach to address the issue in Canada,” said Mariana Eret, policy analyst at Pollution Probe.

The report provides an overview of measures and actions taken within Canada to address this emerging issue. It also compares them to research, monitoring, and mitigation actions taken by other jurisdictions, especially the United States and the European Union. International examples of leadership on policy, consumer programs, and technology are discussed.

The study identifies key knowledge gaps and proposes a path forward. It also offers basin-wide and lake-specific recommendations to address pharmaceutical pollution in the Great Lakes.

“This study highlights the state of science on this important environmental issue, contributing to knowledge-building and awareness-raising,” said Christopher Hilkene, chief executive officer of Pollution Probe. “It helps pave the way forward by identifying actions to better understand and manage pharmaceutical pollution and protect the health of the Great Lakes and communities that depend on them.”

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The report, Reducing the Impact of Pharmaceuticals on the Great Lakes, was made possible with support from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

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