Fish in British rivers were found to contain party drugs, pesticides, and pharmaceutical drugs, according to a study published in Environment International.
A team of scientists from King’s College London and University of Suffolk investigated 15 sites at Suffolk rivers Deven, Stour, Alde, Waveney, and Gipping to determine what chemicals are in the water.
The team was surprised to find traces of party drugs cocaine and ketamine, pesticides, and even pharmaceutical drugs not only in the water but also in its inhabitants.
According to the scientists, each sample taken from the rivers contained traces of cocaine, while shrimp also taken from the sites were found to have ketamine and other pharmaceutical drugs.
Other drugs found in the sample were MDMA, also known as ecstasy; methamphetamine, the drug used to make crystal meth; and Salbutamol, the drug used to treat asthma.
“Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising,” Lead Author Dr. Leon Barron from King’s College London told Daily Mail. “We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments.”
“The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear.”
The scientists were not sure where the widespread contamination came from and added that it was “unlikely” that the spread of deactivated sewage sludge on the fields could be the source.
They also explained that there are small wastewater treatment plants throughout Suffolk that discharge into the rivers that can remove 90% of cocaine.
“Whether the presence of cocaine in aquatic animals is an issue for Suffolk, or more widespread an occurrence in the UK and abroad, awaits further research,” said Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk.
“Environmental health has attracted much attention from the public due to challenges associated with climate change and microplastic pollution.”
“However, the impact of ‘invisible’ chemical pollution (such as drugs) on wildlife health needs more focus in the UK as policy can often be informed by studies such as these,” Bury concluded.