Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Pharmaceutical Substances in the Baltic Sea

Pharmaceuticals are a particular category of environmental contaminants, as they are designed to be persistent and affect biological functions at low concentrations. Their occurrence in marine waters has caused concerns, as it is currently unknown how this will affect the marine life and the environment


The recent update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP 2021) identified that hazardous contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, were a significant concern in the Baltic Sea marine environment. This concern lies in the recognition from, for example, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) that hazardous contaminants can have detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the ecosystem. With many potential contaminants of concern for the Baltic Sea environment, assessment is needed to evaluate the environmental hazards to identify the contaminants of highest priority to address. This is needed to be balanced against other societal interests, as pharmaceuticals and other emerging substances have a critical role in for example human (or animal) health.  

Environmental occurrence data directly contribute to the assessment of the environmental concern posed by these contaminants, however there is a concern that there could be data gaps in the occurrence data set. As the occurrence data set has limitations, particularly in terms of regular and intensive monitoring of a large number of potentially hazardous contaminants in the Baltic Sea, sales data can supplement and help identify knowledge gaps in the environmental occurrence data. These knowledge gaps of pharmaceuticals as contaminants of emerging concern needs summarising from a regional perspective in order to prevent the deterioration of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. 


The project will directly address this knowledge gap and summarise the regional information to support appropriate management of pharmaceuticals in the Baltic Sea region. In particular, the project will focus on BSAP actions: 

  • HL22: Improve the knowledge base on occurrence of pharmaceuticals in the environment, their persistence, and harmful effects and ensure availability of this information for broad expert community by 2025;  
  • HL23: Identify priority pharmaceuticals by 2024 utilising the best available knowledge on their releases into the aquatic environment, environmental effects and available data on their use in the region for efficient risk reduction and for subsequent integration of these substances to HELCOM assessments, as indicators of the state of the Baltic Sea and environmental pressure.  


The project focuses on collecting environmental occurrence and sales data through a series of regional data calls, subsequently comparing the collected data with regards to environmentally hazardous properties. The environmental occurrence data set will provide direct information of the environmental hazard with regards to toxicity, whereas the sales data will be used to complement future environmental monitoring programmes for the identification of other potentially hazardous pharmaceuticals. The HELCOM Expert Group on Hazardous substances and the Source to Sea Working Group will directly review and guide the work of the project. The results will be summarised in regional report.  


The HELCOM Secretariat will lead the work of this project, guided by relevant regional HELCOM Expert and working Groups. 

Project duration

15.9.2023 – 31.12.2024 


Mock Employee
Daniel Malnes

Project Researcher
+358 44 710 4392