The waters of River Cauvery are polluted by a range of emerging contaminants including pharmaceutically-active compounds, a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) revealed. The other contaminants include personal care products, plastics, flame retardants, heavy metals, and pesticides, among many others.
A study by a team of researchers from IIT Madras led by Dr. Ligy Philip showed that pharmaceutical contamination was particularly serious in India, which is the second-largest pharmaceutical manufacturing country in the world. These drug compounds, when released even in minuscule amounts into water bodies, can harm human beings and the ecosystem in the long run, the study said.
Highlighting the important findings of the research, Dr Philip said, “We monitored the water quality of Cauvery River for two years to assess the seasonal variation of emerging contaminants, especially pharmaceutically active compounds.”
The study showed that there was a need to upgrade wastewater treatment systems to “reduce the levels of emerging contaminants in receiving water bodies such as rivers” and that “it was essential to regularly monitor rivers and their tributaries for contamination by pharmaceutical products.”
“The findings of this work also point to the need for more research into assessing the long-term impacts of emerging contaminants on human health and the environment,” a press release issued by IIT Madras said.
Philip said, “The IIT Madras team collected water from 22 locations along entire stretch of the river. We also set up 11 sampling stations near discharge points of partially treated or untreated wastewater and 11 locations near intake points of water supply systems. The quality of water the catchment sites was also monitored.”
The study showed that river networks contributed to 0.006% of global freshwater and served as a lifeline for various domestic and industrial activities. “Worldwide, water quality of the river systems has been deteriorating due to various anthropogenic activities. One river system in South India that has been subjected to constant human threat is the River Cauvery,” the study said.
The research team also found that water quality and levels of pharmaceutical contaminants in the Cauvery are influenced by the monsoon season. The post-monsoon period showed an increased level of various types of contaminants including pharmaceuticals due to reduced riverine flow and continuous waste discharge from multiple sources.
“Our observations are alarming. So far, not much is known about how pharmaceutical contaminants affect human health and the ecosystem over time. The team’s environmental risk assessment has shown that pharmaceutical contaminants pose medium to high risk to the selected aquatic lifeforms of the riverine system,” said Prof Philip.