Higher concentration of pharmaceutical wastes is potentially threatening a large part of rivers globally. Between 70% and 80% of all antibiotics consumed by humans and farm animals – thousands of tonnes – find their way into natural environments, confirms Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands on Tuesday.
Presenting his research findings, he told the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2018 during a major science conference in Vienna that drug waste is harmful to the environment. At present, the excessive amount of pharmaceutical substance flowing into waterways could expand by two-thirds before mid-century.
Bregoli, a leader of an international team that produces means for tracking drug pollution hotspots, told The Guardian, “A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals.”
Drugs like anti-histamines, psychiatric drugs, antiplatelet agents, hormones, analgesics, antibiotics are being used in a large amount and they have been detected as a major threat to wildlife. An endocrine disruptor is a drug that badly affects the sex of fish and amphibians, causing a sudden regressive fall in their sex life.
Highlights of Bregoli’s Research
Along with his team, Bregoli used a common anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac, as a substitute to calculate the presence. The team also spread some other medications throughout freshwater ecosystems. After the research, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Union have revealed that they have identified the drug as a threat to the environment. Sub-species of vultures on the Indian subcontinent were found at the edge of extinction after the veterinary use of diclofenac.
Further, the new research claimed that over 10,000 km of rivers around the world have absorbed drug in huge excess of the European Union “watch list” limit which was set at 100 nanogrammes per liter. “Diclofenac emissions are similar to any of thousands of pharmaceuticals and personal care products,” said Bregoli.
The intake of diclofenac globally tops 2,400 tonnes annually. Only a small unit of human waste is filtered out by treatment facilities and more than hundred tonnes human waste remains in water bodies. As per the study, 20% is absorbed by marine life and natural ecosystem, and the remaining waste flow towards the oceans.
Measuring pollution levels with computer model
The research team had developed a computer model to measure the current and future levels of pharma pollution that revolved around standards like sewage systems, population densities, and drugs sales.
In addition, they compared the results of their research findings with the data collected from 1400 spot measurements of diclofenac toxicity. The later data was gathered from various location around the world. These two data were well matched and the most of the data points were in North America and Europe. Remarkably, the increased pollution levels are mostly from Africa, Latin America, and Asia where the management is hardly able to treat even quarter of wastewater. Also, the technology is unable to filter out most pharmaceuticals.
Bregoli stated that the problem cannot be solved only by technology. “We need a substantial reduction in consumption,” he said to AFP.
Know about other research presented at the conference
According to The Hindu, another paper presented at the conference revealed that the urban population is responsible for a sharp decline in the condition of rivers. This is because a speedy development of sewage systems has been noted in urban areas only. “In 2000, sewage was a source of pollution in about 50 percent of the rivers in the world and by 2010, sewage was a source of pollution in almost all rivers worldwide,” said Maryna Strokal, a scientist at Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands. In December, the UN Environment gave a warning in a research paper that the other cause for an evolution of drug-resistant bacteria are antibiotics and chemicals waste.
According to the report of UN, human and farm animals consume around 70 to 80% of all antibiotics, indicating thousand tonnes of waste proceed into natural environments.