Big Pharma is polluting the environment as well as your health: Pharma factories leak waste, worsening the superbug problem
02/06/2018 // Cassie B. // Views

Big Pharma’s many wrongdoings are well-documented, but most of us focus on the damage they’ve caused to human health. Unfortunately, a new report shows that the environment is also suffering because of their practices – and it’s setting a chain of events in motion that could undo all of the medical progress made in modern times.

A survey carried out by the not-for-profit Access to Medicine Foundation found that just eight of the 18 companies questioned said they had set limits regarding how much antibiotic discharge could be released into wastewater. In the survey, which involved Big Pharma names like Novartis, Roche, GSK, and generic drug makers, none of the respondents were willing to disclose how much antibiotic discharge they are releasing into the environment.

Moreover, just one respondent revealed the name of its suppliers, which is significant because this makes companies more accountable for the way they treat the environment.

According to a global report issued in 2016, antibiotic waste that leaks into the environment from manufacturing pharmaceuticals is a big driver of antimicrobial resistance. When bacteria is exposed to the antibiotic residue in the environment, it can quickly build up full resistance and spread, fueling the superbug problem that is currently plaguing human health.

In fact, the resultant superbugs are spreading across the planet and turning problems that were once easily treatable into life-threatening conditions. Not having effective antibiotics is making it difficult to treat infections. Even common medical procedures like C-sections and joint replacements are becoming quite risky as a result.


Superbugs proliferating in water sources around drug factories

Last year, a major study that was published in the journal Infection revealed “excessively high” levels of antifungal and antibiotic drug residue in water sources around drug factories in India. In addition, there were high levels of fungi and bacteria that were resistant to those drugs.

In India, superbugs have been growing in prevalence along with the rise of the country’s drug production industry. Hyderabad is now one of the biggest drug production hubs in the world, creating around a fifth of the planet’s generic drugs as home to 170 drug makers. It is estimated that 56,000 newborn babies die each year in the country of drug-resistant blood infections, while as many as 90 percent of those who travel to the country are returning home with bacteria in their guts that is resistant to multiple drugs.

According to the group Changing Markets, most of the world’s biggest drug makers have a “shocking lack of concern” when it comes to the damage their suppliers are causing the environment.  A report from this group as well as the European Public Health Alliance demands that the pharmaceutical industry clean up its supply chain and boost transparency. In addition, they would like to see major antibiotics buyers like the U.K.’s NHS blacklist companies that are contributing the problem.

Experts are calling on regulators to create minimum standards for the release of such waste, and they emphasize that pharmaceutical companies also need to set higher standards within their supply chains.

Most of the major authorities governing medications, like the European Medicines Agency and the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., have strict regulations in place for drug safety in their supply chains, but environmental standards are largely nonexistent.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors that are also contributing to the problem. For example, biosolids, or biological waste, is a hotbed for resistant bacterial strains to grow and spread. The antibiotics given to animals in factory farms to accelerate their growth are also impacting antibiotic effectiveness. This is particularly worrisome when you consider the fact that 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in our country are used not on people but for producing poultry and meat.

However, one of the biggest culprits is the over-prescription of antibiotics on the part of doctors, who are often encouraged by Big Pharma to give people these drugs even for non-bacterial infections. Follow more news on environmental pollution at

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