Drugs swamping world’s rivers, say researchers

The world’s rivers are quickly getting clogged up with prescription drug waste, researchers told the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna yesterday, writes Greenwire, the leader in energy and environment news.

Clean Water
A beautiful river, but scientists warn the water may not be as attractive as it looks due to prescription drug waste (Credit: Istockphoto_Givaga )

The researchers told the conference that if the trend continues, pharmaceutical waste levels could spike by two-thirds in waterways before 2050.

Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, was quoted as saying: “A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals”.

Bregoli led an international team that developed a way to track pharmaceutical pollution “hot spots.”

According to the Greenwire report that cited several news sources (AFP/LondonGuardian, April 10), Bregoli and his team used diclofenac, a common anti-inflammatory, as a proxy to measure the spread of a wide range of pharmaceuticals that have been found in freshwater ecosystems at levels dangerous to wildlife.

“Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” Bregoli said.

Only a small fraction of the diclofenac is filtered out by plants, while the rest contaminates freshwater ecosystems or makes its way to the ocean, the researchers found.

The team looked primarily at data from Europe and North America, but concluded it’s likely to be even worse in less developed countries with less extensive sewage infrastructure.

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