Drugs Pollute Water Bodies Than Ever Thought

Rivers are warming and losing oxygen faster than oceans, according to a Penn State-led study published today (Sept. 14) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Have you ever thought that drugs come with several environmental impact? With respect to the production, use and disposal, pharmaceutical ingredients in prescription and over-the-counter drugs are released into the environment, especially in surface waters.

A recent study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry notes that pharmaceutical pollution is a global problem that is likely negatively affecting the health of the world’s rivers.


In the 43.5 per cent of the 1,052 locations assessed in the study across 104 countries, the researchers found concentrations of pharmaceutical ingredients. Twenty-three pharmaceutical ingredients occurred at concentrations exceeding “safe’ concentrations, including substances from the antidepressant, antimicrobial, antihistamine, benzodiazepine, painkiller, and other classes.

Corresponding author Alejandra Bouzas-Monroy claimed that this was the first truly global assessment of the impacts of single pharmaceuticals and mixtures of pharmaceuticals in riverine systems. “Our findings show that a very high proportion of rivers around the world are at threat from pharmaceutical pollution. We should therefore be doing much more to reduce the emissions of these substances into the environment,” said Monroy, PhD student at the. University of York.

 Over 1900 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) are used to treat and prevent disease in humans and it is inevitable that these substances will be emitted to the natural environment during their manufacture, use, and disposal. There is a growing concern that exposure to these APIs can negatively affect the health of ecosystems because they are designed to interact with receptors and biochemical pathways in humans, many of which are conserved in non-target organisms and have the potential to cause toxicological side effects, the study said. For example, there is evidence from whole-lake studies that synthetic estrogens cause endocrine disruption at concentrations close to those seen in the environment. The use of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory compound diclofenac resulted in a notable decline in vulture populations on the Indian subcontinent, leading to potential impacts on human health.


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