First Scotland-wide drugs and microplastics test of rivers launched

Environmental scientists at The James Hutton Institute have launched the first nation-wide drug and microplastics test on Scotland’s rivers to help shed light on the increasing mix of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics entering our waters.

The Scottish Government-funded study is testing for a cocktail of chemicals, from pesticides to antidepressants, to help reveal areas of concern, such as rivers or specific contaminants, that need closer monitoring.

The study is initially focussing on the Rivers Dee and Ugie in Aberdeenshire, taking in urban and rural settings respectively, before spreading out across Scotland’s wider river catchments over two years.

Research scientist Dr Jessica Gomez-Banderas says:

“There is concern about the increasing mix of pharmaceuticals, household chemicals and microplastics going into our rivers and the impacts these could have, from impacting animal reproductive systems to spreading disease resistance in the environment.

“But we don’t know enough about how much of these contaminants are going into our rivers at a national and catchment scale. They come from a variety of sources, from us, through wastewater, farming and other activities, while climate change could exacerbate the effects they have.

“By creating a national baseline, we’ll have a valuable dataset helping point to the contaminants and rivers that might need more scrutiny and help predict the impact of things like climate or land use change. Ultimately, it could help to inform decisions around the medicines and chemicals we use to help limit environmental impacts.”

The project will test for 42 of the more common pharmaceuticals (usually drugs that passthrough humans into the sewage treatment process or from farm animals onto the land), 16 pesticides and six other common household chemicals known to disrupt hormones.

The project was informed by and complement’s the ongoing Chemical Investigation Programme Scotland as part of work aiming to help Scottish rivers achieve “good status” under the Water Framework Directive.



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