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May 4, 2020

Research discovers multiple contaminants in surface waters across Australia

Research conducted by environmental research students has found pharmaceuticals, personal care products, food additives and pesticides present in the surface waters of the Brisbane River, Sydney Harbour and Melbourne’s Yarra River. 

The results were discovered by research students at The University of Sydney, The University of Queensland, and the Queensland University of Technology, led by Associate Professor Gavin Birch at USYD. 

The study found traces of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, as well as pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics, hormones, analgesics, blood lipid regulators, cytostatic drugs and antiepileptics. 

Pharmaceuticals including carbamazepine, paracetamol, tramadol, and venlafaxine were also commonly measured in each of the locations. 

These contaminants may impact aquatic fauna and cause potential adverse effects to aquatic organisms, as well as humans via the food chain. The report found that while pesticides may be washed into rivers via stormwater drains or surface runoff, pharmaceutical products, which are often not fully metabolized in the body, culminate in wastewater streams as parent compounds, or metabolites through human and veterinary excretion. 

Even though waste streams containing these compounds are sent to wastewater treatment plants, significant amounts are not removed by the treatment processes and are continuously transported into the estuarine systems.

The study highlights the importance of safely disposing of any unwanted or expired medicine and reducing and minimising the presence of these contaminants in our waterways. It also serves as a reminder to never flush any medicines down the toilet or put them down the sink, and to return any unwanted or expired medicine to your local pharmacy, where they will be taken to EPA-approved incinerators. 

Gavin Birch et all Research 2020
Gavin Birch et all Research 2015

The Return of Unwanted Medicines Project is a free service that offers a way to dispose of unwanted or expired medicines safely and conveniently at your local community pharmacy. Find out more about the service here.

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