A study has found that a diverse array of chemicals, including illicit drugs such as cocaine and pesticides, are polluting water bodies and aquatic animals in the UK. For the first time, researchers from the King’s College London and the University of Suffolk in the UK, looked at the exposure of wildlife, such as the freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex, to different micro-pollutants. The team collected samples from five catchment areas, and 15 different sites across the county of Suffolk. Cocaine was found in all samples tested, and other illicit drugs such as ketamine, pesticides and pharmaceuticals were also widespread in the shrimp that were collected. Consumer products, medicines and drugs can end up in rivers after use and comprise thousands of different chemicals which have the potential to cause environmental harm.
“Although concentrations were low, we were able to identify compounds that might be of concern to the environment and crucially, which might pose a risk to wildlife,” said Thomas Miller from King’s College London. “We found that the most frequently detected compounds were illicit drugs, including cocaine and ketamine and a banned pesticide, fenuron. Although for many of these, the potential for any effect is likely to be low,” said Miller, lead author of the study published in the journal Environment International. “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 Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk.