Humanity’s drugs have polluted rivers across the entire world and pose “a global threat to environmental and human health”, according to the most comprehensive study to date.
Pharmaceuticals and other biologically active compounds used by humans are known to harm wildlife and antibiotics in the environment drive up the risk of resistance to the drugs, one of the greatest threats to humanity.
The scientists measured the concentration of 61 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) at more than 1,000 sites along 258 rivers and in 104 countries, covering all continents. Only two places were unpolluted – Iceland and a Venezuelan village where the indigenous people do not use modern medicines.
The most frequently detected APIs were an anti-epileptic drug, carbamazepine, which is hard to break down, the diabetes drug metformin, and caffeine. All three were found in at least half of the sites. Antibiotics were found at dangerous levels in one in five sites and many sites also had at least one API at levels considered harmful for wildlife, with effects such as feminising fish.
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. [Continue reading…]