Friday, 2 September 2016

Illegal drugs are changing the basis of the food chain in rivers


‘As society continues to grapple with aging wastewater infrastructure and escalating pharmaceutical and illicit drug use, we need to consider collateral damages to our freshwater resources’

Ian Johnston Science Correspondent 

People are flushing so many illegal drugs down the toilet that they are altering the natural world.

Researchers tested streams in Baltimore in the US and discovered “numerous drugs” at six different sites, even in forested areas nearby.

They then used an artificial waterway created in a laboratory to test what effect the concentrations of amphetamines found in the streams were having on plants and aquatic animals.

Their findings, they said, were "concerning".

The primary production of biofilm – slime found in most rivers that forms the base of the food chain – was 85 per cent lower in the artificial stream polluted with amphetamines, also known as speed.

And the composition of bacteria also changed and aquatic insects emerged earlier.

Researcher Dr Sylvia Lee, of the US Environmental Protection Agency, warned similar effects were likely to be found elsewhere.

“Around the world, treated and untreated wastewater entering surface waters contains pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs that originate from human consumption and excretion, manufacturing processes, or improper disposal,” she said.

“We were interested in revealing how amphetamine exposure influences the small plants and animals that play a large role in regulating the health of streams.”

The study, which was detailed in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is one of the first to look into the effects of recreational drugs on nature. Amphetamine is also used in drugs to treat conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.


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