Cocktail of drugs polluting rivers
A study by scientists in the School of Geography suggest that pharmaceuticals are polluting our rivers more than pesticides.
In a research paper on pharmaceutical pollution in the rivers Aire and Calder in West Yorkshire, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, the scientists highlight the lack of legislation to regulate the presence of drugs in rivers.
Dr Paul Kay, from the research centre water@leeds at the University of Leeds, said: “It’s worrying how little legislation exists for pharmaceuticals in our rivers. Pharmaceuticals are an important environmental pollutant and they should be added to and regulated under existing policies.”
Although the likelihood of human health impacts due to pharmaceuticals in the environment is low, their presence is a major ecological concern due to the potential for effects on aquatic organism behaviour, growth, reproduction and mortality at trace concentrations.
Previous studies of UK pharmaceutical pollution had focused on south-east England and parts of south Wales, with very few studies in central, western and northern England or Scotland.
In the new study, the researchers sampled water from the rivers Aire and Calder over an 18-month period, looking for five specific drugs: ibuprofen, erythromycin, diclofenac, mefanamic acid and propanolol.
Dr Lee Brown, also from water@leeds and a co-author of the paper, said: “Pharmaceutical pollution of rivers is not yet regulated, and in 46% of the samples we found the concentration of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac was more than double the limit proposed by the European Commission. The scale of the problem is clear when we compare with pesticides in the UK, which exceed the threshold for only 6% of samples monitored.”