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Nearly HALF of the world’s rivers contain dangerous levels of prescription drugs

When you think of river pollution, visions of plastic bottles and packaging are likely to come to mind.

But a new study has warned that almost half of the world’s rivers are also full of prescription drugs.

York University researchers found unsafe levels of drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines and painkillers, at 43.5% of 1,052 sites tested in 104 countries.

“Our results show that a very high proportion of rivers worldwide are threatened by pharmaceutical pollution,” said study co-author Alejandra Bouzas-Monroy.

“We should therefore do much more to reduce the emissions of these substances into the environment.”

Nearly half of the world’s rivers are full of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, a new study has warned. Pictured: a river in Nairobi

York University researchers found unsafe levels of drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines and painkillers, at 43.5% of 1,052 sites tested in 104 countries.

York University researchers found unsafe levels of drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines and painkillers, at 43.5% of 1,052 sites tested in 104 countries.

Which countries have the world levels?

The sites with the highest levels were located in Africa – with a river in Nairobi having the highest levels of all the sites, the researchers said.

“The locations with the highest mixing HQs were located in Africa and were primarily associated with three sampling campaigns (Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo) where garbage disposal, points of sewage discharge, dumping of sewage raw materials by vacuum trucks, and pharmaceutical manufacturing activities were observed,” the researchers wrote.

In Asia the highest levels were in Lahore, in South America in La Paz and in Europe in Tubingen.

More than 100,000 tons of pharmaceuticals are consumed worldwide each year, according to the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

During their production, use and disposal, pharmaceutical drugs are released into rivers, where they can have adverse effects on organisms, including fish and aquatic plants.

In the study, the team set out to understand the extent of this pharmaceutical pollution in the world.

“This is the first truly global assessment of the impacts of single pharmaceuticals and mixtures of pharmaceuticals in river systems,” Ms. Bouzas-Monroy said.

The team took water samples from 1,052 sites in 104 countries, including the UK, Australia, France and the US.

The results revealed that 43.5% of sites had “concerning” levels of 23 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

This included substances from antidepressants, antimicrobials, antihistamines, benzodiazepines and painkillers.

The sites with the highest levels were located in Africa – with a river in Nairobi having the highest levels of all the sites, the researchers said.

“The locations with the highest mixing HQs were located in Africa and were primarily associated with three sampling campaigns (Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo) where garbage disposal, points of sewage discharge, dumping of sewage raw materials by vacuum trucks, and pharmaceutical manufacturing activities were observed,” the researchers wrote.

In Asia the highest levels were in Lahore, in South America in La Paz and in Europe in Tubingen.

Worryingly, previous studies have shown how exposure to high levels of APIs can affect organisms, including fish and algae.

“For example, concentrations of antibiotics in surface waters have been shown to exceed the PNEC [predicted no‐effect concentrations] European and Chinese surface values,” the researchers explained.

“The anticonvulsant carbamazepine has been reported to occur at levels of concern for acute and chronic effects in fish, daphnids and algae in Africa, China and Israel.

In Asia the highest levels were in Lahore, in South America they were in La Paz and in Europe (map shown) they were in Tubingen, Germany.

In Asia the highest levels were in Lahore, in South America they were in La Paz and in Europe (map shown) they were in Tubingen, Germany.

“Stimulants have been highlighted as a group of concern in terms of aquatic impacts in Poland, Israel, China and Italy.”

The researchers hope their findings will encourage nations to take better action to tackle pharmaceutical pollution in rivers around the world.

“Overall, the results show that API pollution is a global problem that likely negatively affects the health of the world’s rivers,” the team concluded.

“Work is urgently needed to resolve the issue and bring concentrations down to an acceptable level.”

Worryingly, studies have shown that the presence of antibiotics in the environment contributes to the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), one of the major emerging threats to human health today.

“The burden of AMR in terms of lost lives, morbidity, healthcare costs and lost productivity is far greater than currently available statistics suggest – 25,000 deaths in 2007 – and projections estimate a 15% of AMR morbidity in Europe by 2050 with 390,000 deaths,” the EEB said.

FISH IN RURAL BRITISH WATERWAYS CONTAIN COCAINE AND KETAMINE: 2019 STUDY

Fish in British waterways contain cocaine, ketamine, methamphetamine, pesticides and drugs, a 2019 study found.

Kings College scientists working with the University of Suffolk took water samples from 15 sites in five rivers around Suffolk.

The authors said they “surprisingly” found cocaine in every sample, while the party drug ketamine and other pharmaceuticals were also found in freshwater shrimp.

Dr Leon Barron of King’s College London said: ‘Such a regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising.

“We might expect to see them in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller, more rural catchments.

“The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear.”

In the 56, different substances were detected – and the drug of abuse, cocaine, was most commonly found along with lidocaine.

Lidocaine has legal uses as a local anesthetic in dentistry, but is also often used illegally to “cut” cocaine, as it produces cocaine-like numbness of the gums, tricking users into thinking they are taking cocaine which has a similar effect.

Lead author Dr Thomas Miller of King’s College London said: “Although the concentrations were low, we were able to identify compounds which may be of concern to the environment and, importantly, which may pose a risk to wildlife.”

Joan J. Dean

The author Joan J. Dean