Drugged waters – how modern medicine is turning into an environmental curse
The aquatic and human health consequences of pharmaceutical drugs entering the environment through wastewater treatment plants is not yet well understood.
As the world’s population expands and we become wealthier, drugs and chemical-based care products become more prevalent. While pharmaceuticals are essential for human health and well-being, less is known on the effects they have on the freshwater sources on which we depend for our existence, and their impact on human health and biota.
For some time, evidence has been mounting that chemical pollution may be entering the food chain and altering the sex functions of fish. But these effects may not be limited to fish. Research suggests that exposure to pharmaceuticals and other chemicals in drinking water may affect human reproductive systems too.
A 2017 UNESCO study titled Pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment of the Baltic Sea region found that the chemicals’ main pathway into the freshwater and marine environment was via the discharges of effluents from municipal wastewater treatment plants.
“Only nine out of 118 assessed pharmaceuticals were removed from wastewater during the treatment processes with an efficiency of over 95 per cent, and nearly half of the compounds were removed only partially with an efficiency of less than 50 per cent,” says the report.
Water, despite the built-up infrastructure and technology around it, is ultimately an environmental good that comes from and returns to nature. Pollution of water-related ecosystems directly threatens people’s health and livelihoods, as well as economic, political and security developments within countries and in their relations with other countries.
Globally more investment needs to be channeled into improved water quality. "Only four per cent of investments in the water sector are going towards nature-based, or green, solutions, despite the proven co-benefits, including for water quality,” says UN Environment expert Elisabeth Mullin Bernhardt.
“That’s why nature-based solutions for water will be at the centre of this year’s World Water Day, the World Water Development Report, and Stockholm World Water Week.”
Full article can be found at unenvironment.org
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World Water Week is an annual, international conference organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). Over 3000 participants are expected at this year’s event where there will be approximately 200 sessions addressing this year’s theme of “Water, ecosystems and human development”.
More information, including the World Water Week programme can be found under worldwaterweek.org