noPILLS in Waters

October 2012 - September 2015

Live project


noPILLS is a European research project with the long-term aim of reducing pharmaceutical micro-pollutants in the watercycle.\n\nThe EU-funded project will focus on the residue medicines and other pharmaceutical products leave in water when they pass through the human body, or are washed off.

Around 3,000 pharmaceutical active substances are licensed for use in Europe. Tests have shown that up to 70% of medicines used in a hospital may be excreted or washed off.

Six partners in five European countries, including water boards and universities, are collaborating to develop strategies for raising awareness of pharmaceutical pollution and addressing both the input and the elimination, of pharmaceuticals.

In Scotland, noPILLS comprises an interdisciplinary team at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), ranging from social scientists to engineers, analytical chemists, biologists and virtual reality software engineers.

The team works on detecting pharmaceuticals and their biological effects in river catchments and identifying pathways of pharmaceutical micro-pollutants into the surface water. Communications experts and software developers are exploring the use of new media, e.g. in the form of 3D visualisations and games, to reach young people and special interest groups in particular.

Social scientists investigate under which circumstances or cultural background people may be willing to change their behaviour when using medicinal products. In recognition of the fact that advanced treatment may still be required in some circumstances, and following on from promising lab scale experiments during the precursor PILLS project, an innovative Ferrate technology will be tested for its efficacy to remove pharmaceuticals as a tertiary treatment after conventional wastewater treatment in the catchment.

The PILLS project ( demonstrated successful elimination techniques of such substances as an end-of-pipe solution at hospitals. However, as in some catchment areas hospitals contribute only up to 20% of the total emission, noPILLS addresses the remaining 80%. To apply advanced techniques at municipal waste water treatment plants would mean enormous costs for water users and a different approach is therefore pursued to address pharmaceutical residues arising from private households. As the benefits of pharmaceuticals to human health are obvious, prohibition of the substances is out of the question.


noPILLS will investigate whether, and how, pharmaceutical input may be reduced by raising awareness, encouraging different consumption or prescription practises, and promoting better disposal, as an alternative to expensive high-tech  adaptation of wastewater treatment facilities.

The noPILLS partners are convinced that they may at least feed into the European public debate on how much benefit can be achieved by avoiding or substituting some compounds. They see an opportunity to enlighten the public on what consumer behaviour and a certain level of health and welfare mean for the development of waste water treatment costs and biodiversity, which may lead to changing prescription and consumption behaviour and instigate an increased demand for ‘green pharmacy’.

Staff Involved

The benefit is that you have this interdisciplinary team who do research that we as a water board cannot do, as our core activities are water services and water treatment.

Kirsten Adamczak, Lead Partner in noPills, Emschergenossenschaft