Increased demands for potable water, especially where supplies are drawn from lowland rivers has necessitated a greater degree of water re-use. As water undertakings have a duty to maintain the wholesome quality of potable water supplies, increasing concern is being expressed over the presence of organic micro-contaminants (contaminants found at μg litre−1 concentrations). This study outlines some of the problems encountered in assessing the risk from pharmaceutical chemicals which might enter the water cycle from domestic and industrial sources. Analytical chemistry was of value for only a few of the 200 compounds studied. However, much useful information was derived from the human metabolic routes of the drugs and is collated in Appendix I. Biodegradation studies and other ecotoxicity/environmental toxicology data may be required to a greater extent in the future. Particular consideration is given to vulnerable sections of the population.