International Study Reveals the World’s Rivers Are Awash in Pharmaceutical Drugs

by | Feb 15, 2022 | Climate & Environment, Quick Facts

Researchers examining pharmaceutical contamination took samples from more than 1,000 locations around the world, including the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos.

International Study Reveals the World’s Rivers Are Awash in Pharmaceutical Drugs

by | Feb 15, 2022 | Climate & Environment, Quick Facts

Researchers examining pharmaceutical contamination took samples from more than 1,000 locations around the world, including the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Researchers who examined water samples from over 1,000 locations warn that "pharmaceutical pollution poses a global threat to environmental and human health."

Republished with permission from Common Dreams, by Jessica Corbett

Underscoring the value of collaboration, experts from around the world on Monday unveiled what they described as the first “truly global study” of pharmaceutical drugs contaminating rivers, which has “deleterious effects on ecological and human health.”

“I hope the study will lead to projects that support and expand sewage treatment where it is needed the most.”

The historic analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 127 authors from 86 institutions. They examined surface water samples from 1,052 sites in 104 countries—including 36 that had never been monitored before— across all continents for 61 different active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

Sample sites ranged from an Indigenous community in Venezuela where modern medicine is not used to highly populated urban areas such as Delhi, London, and New York City. Researchers also gathered samples from regions with political instability, including Baghdad, Nablus in the Palestinian West Bank, and Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé.

The United States was the “most extensively studied” nation, with samples collected at 81 locations along 29 rivers across Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New York, and Texas. Samples were also taken in every European Union member state except Malta, which the paper explains “was not included due to the country’s lack of rivers.”

The paper notes that all four contaminants detected on every continent—caffeine, nicotine, acetaminophen or paracetamol, and cotinine—are “considered either lifestyle compounds or over-the-counter APIs.” Another 14 APIs, including various antidepressants and antihistamines, were found on all continents except Antarctica.

“Concentrations of at least one API at 25.7% of the sampling sites were greater than concentrations considered safe for aquatic organisms, or which are of concern in terms of selection for antimicrobial resistance,” the study states. “Therefore, pharmaceutical pollution poses a global threat to environmental and human health, as well as to delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Guardian‘s Damian Carrington reported that “the APIs end up in rivers after being taken by people and livestock and then excreted into the sewer system or directly into the environment, though some may also leak from pharmaceutical factories.”

Lead author John Wilkinson of the University of York told Carrington that “the World Health Organization and U.N. and other organizations say antimicrobial resistance is the single greatest threat to humanity—it’s a next pandemic.”

“In 19% of all of the sites we monitored, the concentrations of [antibiotics] exceeded the levels that we’d expect to encourage bacteria to develop resistance,” he said.

With the exceptions of Iceland and the Yanomami Village in Venezuela, “at least one API was detected in all of our study campaigns,” the paper reveals. The highest concentrations were documented in Lahore, Pakistan; La Paz, Bolivia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Overall, the most polluted samples came from African and Asian countries, the experts found. The most contaminated samples from Europe, North America, and Oceania were from Madrid, Spain; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Adelaide, Australia, respectively.

“While the majority of previous studies have monitored active pharmaceutical ingredients in rivers, these studies have often excluded many countries, have measured only a select few pharmaceuticals, and used different analytical methods,” co-author Anna Sobek of Stockholm University said in a statement. “This means that it is difficult to make direct comparisons between studies and, hence, assess the scale of pharmaceutical pollution across the globe.”

Though she emphasized that the study confirms the issue is global in nature, Sobek noted that “in general, the rivers with the highest level of pharmaceutical pollution were found in low- to medium-income countries where there are no adequate water treatment facilities and where high emissions from the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals are found.”

“The findings of this study remind us that the medicines we buy in pharmacies can have a big impact on the environment of the countries they are manufactured in,” Sobek said.

“Since we clearly show that access to sewage treatment facilities significantly improves water quality,” she added, “I hope the study will lead to projects that support and expand sewage treatment where it is needed the most.”

Wilkinson told Carrington that “we know good sewage connectivity and wastewater treatment is the key to minimizing, though not necessarily eliminating, pharmaceutical concentrations,” but it “is extremely expensive as there’s a lot of infrastructure involved.”

In a statement, Wilkinson said the research project “is an excellent example of how the global scientific community can come together to tackle large-scale environmental issues.”

The paper highlights that the authors’ approach “could be applied to other APIs and other classes of pollutants, such as personal care products, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, pesticides, and metals,” as well as “expanded to other environmental media, such as sediments, soils, and biota.”

“As we move toward 2030, the new paradigm in environmental monitoring must involve a global, inclusive, and interconnected effort,” the study concludes. “Only through global collaboration will we be able to generate the monitoring data required to make informed decisions on mitigation approaches required to reduce the environmental impacts of chemicals.”

<a href="" target="_blank">Common Dreams</a>

Common Dreams

Common Dreams has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 1997. They are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

May 16 2022

Unfortunately Trees Are Not the Climate Change Cure-All We’ve Assumed They Would Be

Two studies show it is not a great idea to count on forests as a widespread carbon solution for climate change through the 21st century, particularly if societies don’t...
May 15 2022

Wealth Won’t Protect the Rich from Climate Change

Although wildfires in California have historically peaked in the late summer and fall, Orange County Fire Authority Assistant Chief of Field Operations TJ McGovern told...
May 14 2022

The Facts Surrounding the U.S. Baby Formula Shortage

As Republican fear mongers like Elise Stefanik whip out conspiracy accusations and blame about the baby formula shortage, the real facts from a pediatrician are more...
May 12 2022

Trump Is Under Federal Grand Jury Investigation — Finally

A federal grand jury has issued at least one subpoena, and investigators are seeking interviews in the case of sensitive documents that ended up at the former...
May 12 2022

Tucker Carlson’s Fake Masculinity Crisis Is a Fascist History Lesson

Tucker Carlson is pulling from an old playbook as he stokes anxiety about a masculinity crisis that doesn’t actually exist.
May 11 2022

State Anti-Abortion Laws Are Causing Confusion for Treatment of Miscarriages

In Texas, anti-abortion laws are creating uncertainties that may deter some doctors and other providers from offering optimal miscarriage treatment.
May 07 2022

Healthcare Profiteering: Medical Bills Force a Family to Get Care in Mexico

The Fierro family was trapped in a situation of being “functionally uninsured.” They have insurance, but their healthcare plan is expensive and they don’t have the...
May 06 2022

Fossil Fuel Democrats Join GOP Senators Trying to Prevent Biden From Declaring Climate Emergency

Though the Senate resolution is non-binding, it clearly shows the fear the fossil fuel industry has of impending actions to reverse the damage they are causing to our...
May 02 2022

Private Utility Companies Also Got Into the Pandemic Profiteering Act

A new report details how private utility companies shut off electricity to U.S. households more than 3.5 million times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, even...
May 02 2022

Pollution of Our Oceans With Microplastics Might Be a Bigger Problem than We Thought

New research suggests disease-causing parasites can hitch a ride on microplastics and potentially spread throughout the seas.
Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This