A study involving researchers worldwide found pharmaceutical pollution in rivers on every continent, including Antarctica. About a quarter of all rivers tested came back positive with pharmaceutical pollution. The study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), warns that pollution of the world’s rivers by medicinal chemicals is a global problem that is not being spoken about on a high enough scale.
If living during climate change doesn’t barrel enough fear, researchers who conducted the study explained their seemingly obvious, but forever haunting conclusions. Researchers measured the presence of 61 pharmaceuticals, including some lifestyle compounds such as caffeine, and whether they were above levels where they could affect the environment. Pollution is equally bad for all inhabitants on earth and poses a risk to freshwater habitats and wildlife. Pollution also threatens global goals on water quality and pollution, research warns. All that research about our ecosystem can be thought of as just the tip of the iceberg that is pollution. The main conclusion researchers landed on was that it contributes to the build-up of antimicrobial resistance.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that Antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness, and death. When applying this thought to bodies of water, one gets led down a road of questioning water quality as a whole.
Various chemicals such as beta-blockers, antibiotics, antidepressants, sleeping medication, and antihistamines were found in rivers on all inhabited continents. Contaminants found at potentially harmful concentrations at some sites included beta-blocker propranolol and antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
Research also told who was suffering the most from this specific form of pollution. It is believed that lower and middle-income countries were the most polluted due to their inadequate wastewater infrastructure, dumping along river banks, dumping of septic tank contents into rivers.
Co-leader of the project, Dr. John Wilkinson, from the University of York, claimed his mission for the study: “We’ve known for over two decades now that pharmaceuticals make their way into the aquatic environment where they may affect the biology of living organisms. But one of the largest problems we have faced in tackling this issue is that we have not been very representative when monitoring these contaminants, with almost all of the data focused on a select few areas in North America, Western Europe, and China. Through our project, our knowledge of the global distribution of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment has now been considerably enhanced.”
Hopefully, with growing awareness, technology, and consciousness countries around the world will communicate more efficiently with their people to clean up the world for a better future. In term, the goal of this study was not only to illuminate light on this issue, but to also create a global effort to generate monitoring data needed to make decisions on how to reduce the environmental impacts of chemicals.