Drug waste clogs rivers around the world, scientists say

Large numbers of pharmaceuticals found at levels dangerous for wildlife and the environment

A boy fishes in the Niger river in the Mali region of Gao. Drug pollution levels are higher in much of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
 A boy fishes in the Niger river in the Mali region of Gao. Drug pollution levels are higher in much of Latin America, Africa and Asia. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters

River systems around the world are coursing with over-the-counter and prescription drugs waste which harms the environment, researchers have found.

If trends persist, the amount of pharmaceutical effluence leaching into waterways could increase by two-thirds before 2050, scientists told the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

“A large part of the freshwater ecosystems is potentially endangered by the high concentration of pharmaceuticals,” said Francesco Bregoli, a researcher at the Delft institute for water education in the Netherlands, and leader of an international team that developed a method for tracking drug pollution “hotspots”.

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