High levels of medical drugs, harmful to invertebrates, present in British rivers
A study by Buglife, published on 26 September 2021, found widespread contamination from pharmaceutical products in UK waterways.
Medical drugs enter river systems through various routes including output from water treatment facilities, runoff from agricultural land, and discharge from septic tanks. Anti-Inflammatories, Ibuprofen and Diclofenac, were found in 84% and 34% of the study’s samples taken downstream from water treatment works. While the impacts of pharmaceutical contamination on freshwater ecosystems is still not fully understood, drugs such as these are known to have negative impacts on invertebrates, such as snails and shrimp, altering their reproduction, behaviour, and development. A reduced abundance of these creatures has knock negative impacts throughout their ecosystems, in particular on the predators that rely on these invertebrates as their main food source.
In light of its recent findings, Buglife has outlined the necessity of more research into the risks posed by medical drug pollution within freshwater habitats, and for wastewater treatment facilities to more stringently restrict the output of pharmaceutical pollution.
“Freshwaters are haemorrhaging biological diversity faster than any other ecosystem on earth. Whilst medicines are essential to human health, their residues are making our rivers sick, with commonplace drugs present in concentrations that are harmful to freshwater invertebrates. We need a prescription for our rivers that improves water treatment facilities, properly evaluates the risks, and reduces the opportunities for the most harmful substances to enter the water environment.” Craig Macadam, Conservation Director, Buglife.