Drug Waste Contaminates River Waters Worldwide

Friday, 13 April, 2018 - 05:30 -

Drug Waste Contaminates River Waters Worldwide

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A new study suggested that river waters around the world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drugs waste. (Reuters)
London - Osama al-Naaman
A new study suggested that river waters around the world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drugs waste, increasing their toxicity and negatively impacting their quality and consequently harming human life.

The study found that if this trend persists, the amount of pharmaceutical effluence leaching into waterways could increase by two-thirds before 2050, found researchers at the Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands.

The study was introduced before the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

Researcher Francesco Bregoli said: “A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals.”

He and his colleagues developed a method for tracking drug pollution “hotspots”.

The scientists had found large amounts of drugs, including analgesics, antibiotics, anti-platelet agents, hormones, psychiatric drugs and antihistamines, in river waters. Dangerous levels of pharmaceutical waste concentrations were detected, threatening wildlife. Endocrine disruptors, for example, have induced sex changes in fish and amphibians.

Bregoli used a common anti-inflammation drug, diclofenac, as a proxy to estimate the presence and spread of other medications in freshwater ecosystems. Both the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency have identified diclofenac as an environmental threat.

More than 10,000 kms of rivers around the world have concentrations of diclofenac above the EU “watch list” limit of 100 nanograms per liter, the new research found. “Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” said researchers.

Global consumption of diclofenac tops 2,400 tons a year. Several hundred tons remain in human waste, and only about 7 percent of that is filtered out by treatment plants. Another 20 percent is absorbed by ecosystems and the rest goes into oceans.

Researchers developed a computer model to predict current and future pharma pollution based on criteria such as population densities, sewage systems and drugs sales. They compared the results to data gathered from 1,400 spot measurements of diclofenac toxicity taken from around the world.

Scientists found that the rapid expansion of sewage systems in large urban areas has sharply raised river pollution because much of it is not adequately treated.

Maryna Strokal, a scientist at Wageningen University and research in the Netherlands, said: “In 2000, sewage was a source of pollution in about 50 percent of the rivers in the world. By 2010, sewage was a source of pollution in almost all rivers worldwide.”

Antibiotics and chemical waste is also driving the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, UN Environment said in a study in December. Between 70 and 80 percent of all antibiotics consumed by humans and farm animals – thousands of tons – find their way into natural environments, it said.