Messing it up

Our animals are suffering from the impact of pharmaceutical waste, a new study has found

Over 60 pharmaceutical compounds have been detected in aquatic invertebrates and riparian spiders, Australian research has found.

And the impact extends further, putting at risk iconic Australian animals such as the platypus that consume these creatures, say the researchers. 

A sample of over 190 aquatic insect larvae and other aquatic invertebrates, taken from six streams around Melbourne, detected 69 pharmaceutical compounds from 23 therapeutic drug classes across all the invertebrate groups.

Every invertebrate taxon tested by the Monash University-led research team had detectable concentrations of at least one pharmaceutical in its tissues. Even those tested from a reference site in the Dandenong Ranges National Park that was expected to be free of wastewater input, were contaminated by pharmaceuticals.

“Emergence of adult insects from aquatic larvae and their consumption by predators provide a route for transfer of organic and inorganic contaminants from aquatic ecosystems to riparian and terrestrial food webs,” the authors said.

To exemplify the impact of this transfer, they found riparian spiders that prayed heavily on the aquatic creatures to be contaminated by pharmaceutical compounds at even higher levels than their prey.

“Across all sites, the top five most frequently detected pharmaceuticals in riparian spiders were tramadol, codeine, fluconazole, metoprolol and clomipramine,” they said.

The authors attempted to measure the impact of this level of contamination on higher level predators of these creatures, such as the platypus and brown trout.

“We estimate, based on platypus energetics, that a platypus consuming invertebrates from Brushy Creek [one of the test sites] would consume a total of 1154 μg kg-1 per day of pharmaceuticals spanning 67 compounds from 22 therapeutic drug classes,” they said.

“Platypus would thus consume about one-half of an average human daily dose of antidepressants by eating aquatic invertebrate prey from this stream.”

“The consequences for fish and wildlife of such chronic exposures to biologically active pharmaceuticals are unknown,” they said.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications

Click here to read our feature about pharmacists who are working to improve the environmental impacts of medicines and pharmacy.

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