Pharmaceuticals May be Leeching into Waterways and Causing Havoc with Ecosystems

First Posted: Feb 03, 2016 11:13 AM EST

There may be a global change that's causing increasing disruption-and that change is pharmaceuticals. Scientists have found that residues of medicines in water can kill aquatic animals and play havoc with their food web and reproductive cycle.

"Chemical substances from pharmaceuticals wreak havoc on underwater chemical communication," said Ellen van Donk, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The effects are becoming more and more visible in lakes and ponds worldwide, if you know what to look for."

There is an endless stream of "chatter" going on below the water's surface. Most of that chatter takes the form of infochemicals, which are chemical substances released by aquatic plants and animals that travel through the water.

Aquatic organisms depend on this intricate "smellscape" of information to locate mates and food, and to steer clear of natural enemies. Even low concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds, though, can have a huge impact.

"There are no hard figures, but surface water measurements suggest that concentrations of residues from hormones, anti-depressants and painkillers have in fact increased substantially," said van Donk.

The best way to curtail this change is to find more effective wastewater treatment methods. This is especially important as more and more pharmaceuticals are dumped into water which could impact aquatic life and could eventually work its way up the food chain to humans.

The findings are published in the journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

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