A new study conducted by a researcher at the University of York and her team has found that half of the world’s rivers are contaminated by drugs.
According to a research team that released their findings on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, a startling 43.5 percent of the world’s waterways are contaminated with drugs.
Alejandra Bouzas-Monroy, a researcher at the University of York, and her team examined (pdf below) 1,052 samples from 104 different countries when analysing them, and they discovered 23 distinct pharmaceutical compounds at levels above what was deemed “safe.” These included stimulants, benzodiazepines, painkillers, antihistamines, and antidepressants.
More than a third (34.1%) of the sites where multiple specimens were taken had multiple locations where drug concentrations were deemed to be of “ecological concern.”
People need to “do much more to reduce the emissions of these substances into the environment,” according to Bouzas-Monroy, who referred to the study as “the first global assessment” of pharmaceutical contamination in waterways.
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In addition to noting the drugs that were in the water, the study also noted how the drugs affected fish and aquatic vegetation. Drugs that are known to affect fish enzyme activity include the antidepressant amitriptyline and the antipsychotic carbamazepine, while the tranquilizer diazepam and the antidepressant citalopram both affect animal behavior.
Fish sex hormone activity is affected by both the blood pressure medicine propranolol and the diabetes drug metformin. All were discovered in the waterways that Bouzas-Monroy and her colleagues investigated.
Biological waste from both humans and animals, as well as runoff from farms and pharmaceutical production sites, leads pharmaceuticals to wind up in the water.
Since 2002, when it found at least seven chemicals in more than half of the rivers it sampled, the US Geological Survey has been keeping an eye on the problem in the US. In a sampling of 1,120 wells and streams that were used as a source of drinking water in 2019, the agency discovered similar levels of contamination.
The enormous levels of non-pharmaceutical contaminants that plague the world’s waterways, from industrial chemicals and pesticides to heavy metals like lead, were also noted in Bouzas-Monroy’s study.
Since the long-term health effects of ingesting trace amounts of such drugs on humans or animals have not been adequately explored, many US water utilities do not even test for pharmaceuticals.
Even when the impacts of a pharmaceutical contamination on nearby wildlife are well understood and accepted, there might not be much of a push in the community to take action.
Fluoxetine, the generic name for the well-known antidepressant Prozac, is a frequent waterway contaminant that changes fish behavior noticeably, making them less sexually active and less eager to go on the hunt for food (found in several of the samples examined by Bouzas-Monroy). Populations continue to be impacted even after any cleanup is complete since the influence may last up to three generations.
Furthermore, cleanup can take years, if it happens at all, even when contaminants are known to be harmful to people, as is the case with the high levels of lead and other metals in and around Flint, Michigan.
Read the study given below: