Why is pharmaceutical pollution a problem?

A recent study by a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) has found a range of pharmaceutical pollutants in the Cauvery river water. The pharmaceutical contaminants included anti-inflammatories, anti-hypertensives, enzyme inhibitors, antidepressants and antibiotics. Besides pharmaceutically-active compounds, personal care products, plastics, flame retardants, heavy metals and pesticides were found mixed with the water. This is of great concern because the Cauvery is an important river in South India, extensively used for agriculture and drinking purposes in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. While highlighting the long-term impact of such pollutants on humans and ecosystems, the study called for upgrading wastewater treatment systems to address the issue. What is pharmaceutical pollution? What can we do about it? Read on... occurrence in rivers, lakes, streams, wells and drinking water. The pollution is particularly serious in India, as it is one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world.

Pharmaceutical pollution happens when medicinal residues from drug manufacturing plants, hospitals and homes enter waterbodies. There is a growing concern over its occurrence in rivers, lakes, streams, wells and drinking water. The pollution is particularly serious in India, as it is one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world.


  • One of the main sources of pharmaceutical pollution are the manufacturing plants, which discharge untreated waste into the environment.
  • Humans are also to blame. Our bodies don't use 100% of the drugs we ingest. Traces of pharmaceuticals exit our bodies through excretion and sweat, which enter the water supply when we shower and flush the toilet Scientists say ineffective disposal methods, such as flushing unused medicine down the toilet, should be avoided.
  • Pharmaceutical products are also used in the animal husbandry, hence livestock industries too contribute to pharmaceutical pollution.


  • As the chemicals make their way into terrestrial and aquatic environments, they can affect the health and behaviour of wildlife, insects, fish, birds, and more.
  • An entire lifetime of exposure to pharmaceutical pollution, even in tiny concentrations, could cause health issues in humans. A study by the United Nations found that the presence of antibiotics in water contributes to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Scientists have observed reproductive and developmental issues in fish exposed to pharmaceutical pollution.


  • Drug companies should ensure that they treat their wastewater before dumping it into rivers.
  • Governments should upgrade wastewater treatment facilities so they can filter out pharmaceuticals.
  • People should be educated on how to dispose of unused medicines.
  • Wastewater contaminant levels should be regularly monitored for corrective action.

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How did Galen influence the world of medicine?

Galen was born in 129 AD in Pergamon, now in Turkey. Galen began to study medicine at the age of 16, after his father had a dream in which he was told to make his son a physician.

Galen was the first physician to draw from the fields of philosophy and medicine to treat his patients. Combining his own discoveries and those of physicians before him, he developed a medical doctrine that dominated Europe and the Middle East for 15 centuries!

Galen believed that the best way to learn about medicine was through anatomy. Since human dissection was banned, he performed dissections on monkeys and pigs. His theories were not always correct. He proved that arteries and veins carried blood but believed that blood was made in the liver. He advocated the routine use of bloodletting to treat patients. In some cases this led to the death of the patient! Despite his flawed anatomical research, he was very influential and continued as the personal physician to three Roman emperors. He compiled and consolidated his research and was a prolific writer, which is why we know so much about him.

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Who was Pedanius Dioscorides and why was he remarkable?

Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek physician who was born in 40 AD in Cilicia, Asia Minor. He studied medicine in Tarsus, Turkey and developed an interest in botany and pharmacology whilst at school. He served as a surgeon in the Roman emperor Nero’s army which enabled him to travel extensively. He collected samples of plants and minerals and studied their features, distribution and medicinal properties.

He consolidated his knowledge into a monumental five-book volume called De Materia Medica which deals with descriptions of nearly 600 plants and their uses and lists around 1,000 medicinal drugs. One-fifth of these remedies are still considered to be effective.

His seminal work was translated into 7 languages and remained the prime authority in the field of pharmacology in Europe and the Middle East for 16 centuries!

The plant genus Dioscorea and a butterfly called Ampittia dioscorides, which is found in India and China, are named after him.

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Why is Hippocrates known as the ‘Father of Western Medicine’?

Hippocrates was born in 460 BC on the Greek island of Cos. He was the first physician in the Western world who believed that diseases were caused by natural phenomena and not because of superstitions and angry deities. He was instrumental in separating religious elements from the field of medicine and argued that diseases were a product of environment, diet, lifestyle and genetics and not a result of the anger of gods and evil spirits.

He believed in clinical observation, prognosis based on past case studies and the categorization of diseases according to available data. He was the first physician to describe the symptoms of pneumonia and epilepsy in children. His treatment was based on patient immobilization, rest, a good diet, fresh air and cleanliness.

Hippocrates introduced ethics into the field of medicine and also was the first physician to advocate the importance of patient confidentiality. His ideas and beliefs were condensed into an oath called the ‘Hippocratic Oath’. That is a promise that all doctors have to make before they start their practice. It enshrines the code of ethics they have to follow throughout their medical careers.

For his enormous contribution to the world of medicine and his concern for the welfare of patients, Hippocrates is considered the ‘Father of Western Medicine’.

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Who were the people who first introduced diagnosis in medicine?

The Babylonians, along with the ancient Egyptians, were the first people to introduce the concept of diagnosis in medicine. An extensive medical compilation called the ‘Diagnostic Handbook’ existed in Babylon in the middle of the 11th century BC. This treatise described the symptoms of 3,000 different illnesses with their likely outcome or prognosis.

There was however a mix of rational elements as well as magical elements in the Babylonian diagnostic method. They observed the symptoms of the disease in great detail and its progression, but relied on spiritual treatment along with physical treatments.

The Babylonians believed that illness was the result of evil spirits attacking the body and that the health of a person depended on the battle between good and evil. Treatment therefore consisted of giving the patient medicines, often made from mustard, turpentine, pine and herbs; as well as chanting incantations and spells to get rid of the bad spirits.

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