Presence, behavior and risk assessment of pharmaceuticals in marine ecosystems

PHARMASEA integrates international expertise to answer key research questions on fate and biological effects of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), well recognized contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) for marine ecosystems. The project will allow in-depth studies on APIs distribution, effects and risks in four European coastal areas, targeting (1) occurrence, uptake and trophic transfer along regional marine food webs; (2) bioaccumulation/excretion kinetics, potential ecotoxicological effects from molecular to individual levels, and characterization of modes-of-action in model and selected marine species; (3) development of specific risk assessment procedures for APIs. The communication and connection with industries, private and public stakeholders as well as citizen engagement are important aims to promote public awareness, pre-normative research and implementation into European Directives. The project is expected to have a major impact enhancing the scientific knowledge and awareness on interactions between human and environmental health. The results could influence prescribing and disposal practices of domestic medicines and increase market opportunities and competitiveness of European pharma industries investing on environmental sustainability of their products.



Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), Occurrence, Trophic Transfer, Biological Effects, Risk Assessment


Project Website


Achievements so far

The PHARMASEA project has made significant progress in understanding the impact of pharmaceuticals on marine ecosystems. Through extensive field surveys, it has identified more than 50 pharmaceutical compounds in seawater, sediments and marine organisms in different regions. Laboratory studies have shown that marine organisms accumulate these compounds and exhibit adverse effects such as sub-lethal changes and impaired growth and development.

Using a weight-of-evidence approach, PHARMASEA synthesised complex data to develop hazard indices as the basis for an overall risk assessment. The project actively disseminated its findings to scientists, authorities, industry, NGOs and the public through its website and social media platforms. Outreach activities, including engagement with primary school children, aimed to promote sustainable behaviours such as the proper disposal of medicines.

Collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry and wastewater treatment plant engineers aimed to assess environmental sustainability and improve pharmaceutical disposal technologies. PHARMASEA plans to transfer its findings to regulatory bodies in order to develop normative guidelines and strategies for environmental risk assessment and to contribute to European policy development.

To date, PHARMASEA has published five scientific articles, presented at eight conferences and shared numerous updates via its website and Facebook page, raising public awareness of pharmaceuticals as emerging contaminants in the marine environment.

If you're interested in scientific publications associated with PHARMASEA, click here.




Project Coordinator:
Prof. Francesco Regoli,
Polytechnic University of Marche, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences (DiSVA), Italy


Communication & Dissemination Contact:
Marica Mezzelani


Partner Institutions:

University of Heidelberg, Aquatic Ecology & Toxicology, Center for Organismal Studies – Germany

University of Stavanger, Department of Chemistry, Bioscience and Environmental Engineering – Norway

Universidade da Coruña, Instituto Universitario de Medio Ambiente (IUMA) – Spain

Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, M.P. (CSIC) – Spain