Home LanguageEnglish Researchers Identify Numerous Pharmaceutical Traces in Global River Systems

Researchers Identify Numerous Pharmaceutical Traces in Global River Systems

by Derrick Smith
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A report from the University of York in the UK highlights the contamination of the world’s rivers with residues of paracetamol, nicotine, caffeine, epilepsy, and diabetes drugs, indicating potential risks to global health.


Scientists discover that rivers are being contaminated by pharmaceutical residues. (Photo via Pixabay.com)

London, UK (Merxwire) – In your perception, what do you envision inhabiting the river? The common response would likely include fish, shrimp, and aquatic plants. The answer from researchers at the University of York in the UK may be frightening, as they found residues of drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, and the painkiller paracetamol in the river. The report has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers monitored 258 rivers in 104 countries on all continents, with a total of 1,052 sampling points, for more than a quarter of active pharmaceutical ingredients, considered unsafe for aquatic life and harmful to the environment and humans threat to health. This is the world’s largest study on river pollution. It reveals drug residues from common painkillers, epilepsy medications, hypoglycemic drugs, as well as caffeine and nicotine found in everyday products.

How do these common pharmaceutical compounds affect rivers? While there is more to uncover, human contraceptive residues are found to influence fish development and reproduction. Additionally, the rising antibiotic levels in rivers may contribute to fish drug resistance, impacting the food chain.

Practicing greater caution in the utilization of medications constitutes a method for minimizing pollution. (Photo via Pixabay.com)

Pakistan, Bolivia, and Ethiopia had the most polluted rivers in the study. The rivers in Iceland, Norway, and the Amazon rainforest are best. The most polluted sites are mainly located in low- and middle-income countries and areas of the pharmaceutical industry with poorly managed wastewater.

Dr. John Wilkinson, who led the research, noted that what is now known is that even modern efficient wastewater treatment plants cannot fully degrade these compounds before they enter a river or lake. Under normal circumstances, we take these chemicals, they have some desired effect on the body, and then they leave the body.

Worryingly, at all the monitored sites in this study, antibiotic concentrations had already exceeded those at which bacteria could develop drug resistance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a threat to humans when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to drugs. This makes the infection more difficult to treat while increasing the risk of disease transmission and death.

In many countries, cheap antibiotics are available without a prescription, and people may be taking antibiotics more than necessary. When a new drug-resistant bacteria emerges in one part of the planet, it can quickly pose a risk to everyone. Therefore, more careful use of drugs is one of the ways to reduce pollution.

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