Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have begun a £7 million study to raise awareness of the presence of pharmaceutical residues in waste water and to explore new methods of reducing them.

noPILLS – a new European initiative focusing on the residue medicines and other pharmaceutical products leave in water when they pass through the human body, or are washed off. The concentrations in water are very low and are not thought to be harmful to humans though there are some concerns over the effects these residues may have on water habitats. Around 3000 pharmaceutical active substances have permits in Europe. Tests have shown that up to 70% of medicines used in a hospital may be excreted or washed off. The project aims to inform the public about the issue and widen the current debate. It will also gather data on pharmaceutical residues and explore various strategies to reduce their levels in the water cycle.

The EU is considering new quality standards for surface water, such as rivers and streams, that may - for the first time – restrict maximum levels for pharmaceutical substances. These are likely to come into force by 2021.

The noPILLS project sees a GCU team working with four partners across Europe, including water companies and universities. The project has an overall budget of almost £7 million (Euros 9 million), with the GCU team’s work accounting for approximately £2 million of the total.

GCU’s interdisciplinary team will work on detecting pharmaceuticals and their biological effects in a field study area in central Scotland. Social scientists at GCU will also investigate if – and under which circumstances - people may be most willing to consider a change in their pharmaceutical consumption and disposal habits.

Professor Lynne Baillie of the ITT Group will lead the technology focused part of the team which will build innovative mobile applications that will aim to communicate to people in the community complex pharmaceutical data and its impact on the quality of the water in their environment.

GCU’s Dr Ole Pahl, an environmental engineer from the School of Engineering and Built Environment, leads the noPILLS team in Scotland.

The project will run from September 2012 - September 2015