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Research shows potentially dangerous levels of medical drugs for wildlife in British rivers - Buglife

Wildlife charity Buglife are concerned that medical drugs are a widespread occurrence in rivers across Britain – the presence of these chemicals in our waterways may be contributing to the loss of freshwater life.

The drugs including painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and antidepressants are likely to contribute to the decline of freshwater invertebrates – like snails, shrimps, and mussels – by altering reproduction, behaviour, and development. Wastewater treatment works are a major source of contamination with concentrations for the 14 drugs examined exceeding recommended levels in discharges up to 94% of the time.

Pharmaceuticals are essential for human and animal health. However, increasingly they are recognised as environmentally damaging when they enter freshwater systems. To assess the potential risks and impacts posed by medical drugs in our waterways, Buglife examined concentration data across England, Scotland, and Wales, alongside current scientific research.

“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.

Wastewater treatment works are not equipped to fully deal with medical drugs. Discharges of treated water contributed to significant concentration increases in downstream waters for half of the medicines examined. For instance, anti-inflammatory drugs Ibuprofen and Diclofenac were found in 84% and 34% of downstream samples.

View full “Pharmaceuticals in freshwater environments and their potential effects on freshwater invertebrates” report


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Posted On: 04/08/2022

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