Are drugs discharged into the Yamuna toxic to aquatic life?

By studying nine different pharmaceutical active compounds in Yamuna river, researchers  pointed out that it can “possibly cause chronic toxicity” to aquatic life and to humans who use this water for drinking purposes.

About the study

▪ As our body does not use the entire quantity of the drug we take, most of it is excreted and end up in aquatic systems via domestic sewage. 

▪ The report published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety looks at the occurrence, fate and ecological risks of these compounds.

▪ There are six over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, ranitidine, caffeine, diclofenac) and three prescription drugs (carbamazepine, codeine, diazepam).

Findings of the study

▪ The highest concentration of pharmaceutical compounds was located downstream Wazirabad at the point where Najafgarh drain joins the Yamuna.

▪ This is one of the largest drains of Delhi and has an average discharge of about 25 cubic metres per second.

▪ This drain is the largest polluter of the river contributing more than 50% of the total discharge into the Yamuna.

▪ At this site, ibuprofen and paracetamol were found at a high concentration of 1.49 and 1.08 microgram per litre respectively.

▪ Previous studies have shown that even small concentration of ibuprofen could cause an antagonistic effect on aquatic organisms.

▪ Studies have also shown that ibuprofen exposure could increase cyanobacterial growth in the water.

▪ Caffeine was found in high concentration in most of the sites.

▪ Caffeine is used as a stimulant in medicine. Residue from beverages and other food products may also be a contributor.

Hazards of the effluents

The individual levels of the drugs were small and cannot cause acute toxicity to the marine life.

But the mixture of compounds can “possibly cause chronic toxicity” to aquatic life and to humans who use this water for drinking purposes.

This not only affects the biodiversity of the river but can also lead to the rise of superbugs.

The discharge of drug-containing effluents in rivers and other water bodies can potentially make many microbes drugresistant.

Way forward

The sewage treatment plants are not designed to take care of these pharmaceutical compounds. The study thus highlights the need for the government to bring in the guidelines or specific rules to arrest and address this.

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