A new study warns that more than a quarter of the world’s rivers contain “potentially toxic levels” of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
Researchers sampled 258 rivers around the world, including the Thames in London and the Amazon in Brazil, to determine the presence of 61 pharmaceuticals.
At 25.7% of sampling sites, concentrations of at least one substance exceeded concentrations “considered safe for aquatic organisms” and were therefore considered potentially toxic.
Contaminants found at potentially dangerous concentrations included propranolol (a beta-blocker used to treat heart problems such as high blood pressure), sulfamethoxazole (an antibiotic for a bacterial infection), ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic for a bacterial infection), and loratadine (an antihistamine for allergies). ).
But the most commonly identified active pharmaceutical ingredients were caffeine, the antiepileptic drug carbamazepine, and the antihyperglycemic drug metformin.
Traces of drugs are released from human waste into the natural environment, especially when poorly managed wastewater treatment plants are adjacent to rivers.
Pictured is the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos, one of the sites selected for the study. Not surprisingly, the most contaminated sites were in low- and middle-income countries in areas associated with poor wastewater and waste management infrastructure.
Location of the studied rivers/catchments for this study. The dots represent groups of sampling sites in the respective watersheds, and countries are shaded based on the total number of sampling sites.
POLLUTANTS FOUND IN “HARMFUL CONCENTRATIONS”
Contaminants found in potentially harmful concentrations include:
– Propranolol (a beta-blocker for heart problems such as high blood pressure)
– Sulfamethoxazole (antibiotic for bacterial infection)
– Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic for bacterial infection)
– Loratadine (an antihistamine for allergies)
The new study was carried out by an international team of researchers led by Dr. John Wilkinson of the University of York.
“For more than two decades, we have known that pharmaceuticals enter the aquatic environment, where they can affect the biology of living organisms,” Dr. Wilkinson said.
“But one of the biggest problems we had in addressing this issue is that we weren’t very representative when monitoring these pollutants, as almost all of the data was focused on a few select areas in North America, Western Europe and China.
“Thanks to our project, our knowledge of the global distribution of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment has been greatly enhanced.”
For the study, Dr. Wilkinson and colleagues analyzed the concentrations of 61 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) at 1,052 locations along 258 rivers located in 104 countries on all continents.
Rivers in 36 of these countries have never been tested for pharmaceuticals before, scientists say.
Sampling campaigns were carried out in all Member States of the European Union except Malta, which was not included due to the lack of rivers in the country.
Researchers report that loratadine, an allergy antihistamine, is one of the pollutants found at potentially harmful concentrations (file image)
WATER COMPANIES DISCHARLED WASTE WATER INTO UK RIVERS 3,000 TIMES IN FOUR YEARS
Since 2017, raw sewage has been illegally dumped into rivers across the country more than 3,000 times.
A BBC report alleges that over the past four years, seven water companies in England and Wales have regularly broken the law by dumping raw sewage into British waterways.
Campaigners said data shared with the broadcaster showed the water industry was ignoring “poor regulation” from the EPA.
The seven accused companies are Southern Water, South West Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Wessex Water, Yorkshire Water and Welsh Water.
Read more: Water companies dumped wastewater into UK rivers 3,000 times in four years
The most widely studied country was the United States. Here, 81 sampling sites were monitored along 29 rivers in eight states (Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New York and Texas).
Overall, all samples represent the “pharmaceutical fingerprints” of 471.4 million people worldwide.
The study included a sample of sites with a wide range of human influences, from a Yanomani village in Venezuela where modern medicines are not used, to some of the most densely populated cities on the planet, including Delhi. , Seoul, New York, Kinshasa and London.
After analyzing the samples, the researchers found that the highest cumulative API concentrations were in areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South America, with the highest average cumulative concentrations recorded in Lahore, Pakistan, followed by La Paz in Bolivia and, thirdly, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Not surprisingly, the experts found that the most contaminated sites were in low- and middle-income countries, in areas associated with poor wastewater and waste management infrastructure.
The activities most associated with the highest level of pharmaceutical contamination included the dumping of garbage along river banks, inadequate wastewater infrastructure and pharmaceutical production, and the discharge of residual septic tanks into rivers.
Interestingly, high levels of pharmaceutical contamination were most positively associated with regions with a high median age, as well as high levels of unemployment and poverty.
The study included a sample of sites with a wide range of human influences, from a Yanomani village in Venezuela where modern medicines are not used, to some of the most densely populated cities on the planet, including Delhi. , Seoul, New York, Kinshasa and London (pictured)
Not surprisingly, the most contaminated sites were in low- and middle-income countries, in areas associated with poor wastewater and waste management infrastructure. Pictured is Luang Prabang, Laos
At a quarter of all sampling sites, at least one API exceeded levels considered safe for aquatic organisms or associated with antimicrobial resistance, when bacteria and other microbes adapt and evolve in response to modern chemicals designed to kill them, becoming super-potent.” superbugs.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050 these superbugs will kill 10 million people annually, with patients dying from once harmless infections, and will place a cumulative $100 trillion burden on the global economy.
While the results have significant implications for AMR, the study, according to experts, demonstrates the global extent of pharmaceutical pollution in the environment.
They hope that by strengthening the monitoring of pharmaceuticals in the environment, strategies can be developed to limit the effects potentially caused by such contaminants.
The researchers suggest that in the future, their approach could be expanded to include other environmental media such as sediment, soils, and biota, and could allow the development of global pollution datasets.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
UPP “DANGEROUS AS TERRORISM”
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to drugs, making common infections difficult to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness, and death.
General practitioners and hospital staff have been needlessly handing out antibiotics for decades, feeding once-harmless bacteria into superbugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned that if nothing is done, the world is heading towards a “post-antibiotic” era.
It argued that common infections such as chlamydia would become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become resistant to drugs when people take the wrong dose of antibiotics or if they are dispensed unnecessarily.
Former Dame Chief Medical Officer Sally Davis has previously said the threat of antibiotic resistance is as serious as terrorism.
“If we don’t take action, then we could all go back to almost a 19th-century environment where infections kill us through routine operations,” she said.
“We won’t be able to do many types of cancer treatments or organ transplants.”
By 2050, the WHO estimates that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year, with patients dying from once-harmless microbes.
Professor Michael Kinch, an American academic at Washington University in St. Louis, explained SCP in Bill Bryson’s 2019 book The Body.
Professor Kinch said: “We tend to talk about the antibiotic crisis as an impending crisis, but that’s not the case at all – it’s the current crisis.
Another unnamed expert told Birson: “We are considering the possibility that we will not be able to perform hip replacement or other routine procedures because the risk of infection is too high.”