Environmental Management

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 314–322 | Cite as

U.S. News Media Coverage of Pharmaceutical Pollution in the Aquatic Environment: A Content Analysis of the Problems and Solutions Presented by Actors

  • Benjamin Blair
  • Daniel Zimny-Schmitt
  • Murray A. Rudd


Pharmaceutical pollution in the aquatic environment is an issue of concern that has attracted attention by the news media. Understanding the factors that contribute to media framing of pharmaceutical pollution may lead to a better understanding of the management and governance of this issue, including why these pollutants are generally unregulated at this time. This study conducted a content analysis of 405 newspaper articles (81 had substantive information on the topic) from 2007 to 2014, using the search terms “water” and “pharmaceuticals” in the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. We sought to analyze the factors that contributed to the news media presentation of pharmaceutical pollution in the United States, including the presentation of the risks/safety and solutions by various actors. We found that the primary issues in the news media were uncertainty regarding public health and harm to the environment. The primary solutions recommended within the news media were implementing additional water treatment technologies, taking unused pharmaceuticals to predetermined sites for disposal (take-back programs), and trash disposal of unused pharmaceuticals. Water utilities and scientists presented improved water treatment technology, government actors presented take-back programs, and pharmaceutical representatives, while sparsely involved in the news media, presented trash disposal as their primary solutions. To advance the understanding of the management of pharmaceutical pollution, this article offers further insight into the debate and potential solutions within the news media presentation of this complex scientific topic.


Pharmaceuticals Emerging Contaminants PPCPs News Media 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public HealthUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SciencesEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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