plastic bag of ibuprofen

Is ‘down the drain’ ibuprofen making fish sick?

Ibuprofen appears to be having a negative effect on the health of fish in nearly 50 percent of the rivers involved in a new study.

Using a new modeling approach, researchers estimate the levels of 12 pharmaceutical compounds in 3,112 stretches of river in the UK, which together receive inputs from 21 million people.

With the exception of ibuprofen, most of the chemicals cause only a low risk to aquatic life.

“The results of our research show that we should be paying much closer attention to the environmental impacts of drugs such as ibuprofen which are freely available in supermarkets, chemists, and elsewhere,” says Alistair Boxall, professor in University of York’s environment department.

Researchers have developed a combined monitoring and modeling approach that takes into account factors such as the non-use of prescribed drugs by patients, and addresses differences in metabolism in individuals who are using a drug.

‘Down the drain’ chemicals

Reported in the journal Environment International, the new approach also accounts for removal processes in the local sewerage network, and for differences in the effectiveness of different wastewater treatment technologies. In this way, it provides more accurate estimates of the concentrations of compounds entering rivers than previous modelling approaches.

“When we compared the results of our modeling with available monitoring data for pharmaceuticals in the UK, we were delighted at the close agreement between the modeled and measured data,” says Richard Williams, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

“While our study focused on pharmaceuticals, the approach we have developed could also be valuable in assessing the risks of other ‘down the drain’ chemicals and could help inform our understanding of the important dissipation processes for pharmaceuticals in the pathway from the patient to the environment,” Boxall says.

Source: University of York