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Antimicrobials

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL4926, tabled on 14 December 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of antimicrobials in personal care products on increasing antimicrobial resistance in (1) waterways, and (2) soils; and what plans they have, if any, to reduce these impacts.

Answered on

24 December 2021

The Government takes antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the environment seriously, as set out through the cross-Government 20-year vision for AMR and the five-year National Action Plan, which has specific and ambitious commitments. Our aim is to minimise the potential threat of AMR from the dispersal of the drivers for resistance in the environment.

The Environment Agency (EA) has developed a Prioritisation and Early Warning System (PEWS) for chemicals of emerging concern to ensure consideration of the potential risks of emerging chemicals including to surface waters (both freshwater and saline waters), groundwater and soils. The system allows the EA to sift and to screen any chemical substance nominated using, where available, hazard data and environmental monitoring data to prioritise whether a substance may be a possible chemical of concern in England.

The EA has considered some personal care products as part of PEWS, however, only a sub-set of personal care products have antimicrobial properties. To date the EA has conducted screening on two personal care products with antimicrobial properties to understand the risk that they pose to the environment, but not specifically for the risk that their presence may pose to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The substances in the two personal care products included copper oxide and copper carbonate nanoparticles, and triclosan. The EA takes this information to inform its future work or the work of its partners.

In broader work related to AMR in waterways and soil, the EA and Defra are running a new cross-departmental project called PATH-SAFE which contains a workstream focussed on AMR surveillance in two river catchments. This will strengthen our understanding of AMR in the environment, including the relative importance of different sources, transmission routes and, what the implications are for people, animals, food and ecosystems. The EA sludge strategy which is due to be implemented in 2023 will also consider the impacts of antimicrobial resistance and chemicals on soil health and quality.