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Rising Drug Contamination in South England’s Seas

Marine Health Crisis Threatens Marine Life and Human Health

A recent report raises considerable concern regarding the extensive levels of drug residues found in the sea waters off the southern coast of England. Alarmingly, these residues are not confined to prescription medications but also encompass recreational drugs. Such pollutants not only pose a significant threat to marine ecosystems but could also have severe implications for the health of local residents, the study warns.

Recreational Drugs and Antidepressants

This intensive research on water pollution along England’s south coast was conducted by the Clean Harbour Partnership (CHP), Portsmouth and Brunel University London, along with campaigners from Hampshire and Sussex. The study uncovered an array of potent chemicals, including recreational drugs and antidepressants, suggesting a worrying trend of human medications infiltrating marine environments and potentially, our food and water supplies.

Oestrogen Contaminated Water

The research team, led by Bianca Carr, co-founder of the CHP, stressed the profound impact of such contamination on marine life. They pointed out that exposure to oestrogen in the water can cause drastic biological transformations in male fish, leading to feminisation. The potential for these drugs to bioaccumulate in fish populations and enter our food chain is a deeply unsettling prospect for human health, requiring urgent attention.

Carr underscored the necessity of broadening our understanding beyond typical pollution factors. She stated, “We must critically examine the substances present in human waste. After identifying these chemicals, our next step should be to explore the ramifications of cocaine and other human-derived drugs on our waters, our food chain, and consequently, our own health, across the UK.”

Pharmaceuticals, Diabetes Medicines, and a Chemical Produced by the Liver Following Cocaine Use

In their extensive analysis of 288 water samples from Chichester and Langstone harbours, the research team detected over 50 compounds across 22 sites. The list of pollutants includes pharmaceuticals, diabetes medicines, and a chemical produced by the liver following cocaine use. Moreover, the researchers found pesticides, including some prohibited in the UK, raising further questions about potential health risks to residents from ingesting contaminated seafood or water.

Prof Alex Ford, from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Biological Sciences, stressed the ambiguity surrounding the effects of the billions of litres of sewage annually discharged around the UK. Ford’s prior research indicated that even trace amounts of antidepressants in water can adversely impact marine wildlife such as crustaceans and molluscs. It’s not a stretch to imagine that these substances could also pose risks to human health if they contaminate our food or water supplies.

The study also uncovered disturbingly high levels of E. coli bacteria. One post-storm seawater sample from near an outflow pipe from Budds Farm sewage treatment works, near Langstone, revealed a reading of 380,000 colony-forming units per 100ml of E. coli, which is a staggering 760 times the safe levels set by the European bathing water directive. This presents a clear and present danger to residents who swim or fish in these waters, or consume local seafood.

The past months have seen growing outcry over the volume of sewage entering Britain’s seas. In April, the Liberal Democrats analysed data showing that popular beaches are significantly impacted. At Meadfoot beach in Torquay, Devon, for instance, there were 79 instances of sewage dumping amounting to 946 hours.

Southern Water has argued that the Environment Agency has not mandated the removal of chemical substances from wastewater. However, given these new findings and their implications for human and marine health, it’s clear that more comprehensive regulations may be needed.

Guarding Bournemouth’s Green Heritage with The Bournemouth Observer Environment.

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