News

Illegal drugs may be contaminating our water supply

RECREATIONAL drugs could become a major source of Australian urban water contamination, scientists warn.

With tens of thousands of Australians using illicit drugs, researchers are concerned these drugs could be making their way back into the nation's water supplies and food chain, a conference will be told on Monday.

Pandian Govindarasu of the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment said cannabis was the most widely used illicit drug in Australia, followed by amphetamine-type drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine.

"These drugs, when taken, are eliminated from the body in urine and flushed down the toilet," he said.

"People who manufacture these drugs also illegally get rid of the waste in sewers and stormwater drains."

While most of the drugs go through wastewater treatment plants, some of them escape the treatment process, Mr Govindarasu explains.

Also, drugs that are thrown out with domestic waste end up in landfills, and can leach into the soil or groundwater underneath when it rains.

Mr Govindarasu and his colleagues at The University of South Australia are currently investigating the extent to which drugs have escaped into Adelaide's urban water system in order to get a handle on the scale of the problem nationally.

The CRC CARE team is also testing how long drugs can stay in the soil and how they affect insects that live in water, soil bacteria, earthworms and microalgae.

Principal supervisor of the research Megh Mallavarapu of CRC CARE and UniSA said it was crucial to find out how these illicit drugs affected the environment.

"They're very similar in nature to chemicals called endocrine disruptors that have been shown to have harmful effects on fish, soil, insects and plants as well as humans. In other words they may add to the overall toxic burden in society," he said. 

Prof Mallavarapu said there were rising concerns about the presence of legitimate drugs such as antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, steroids and contraceptives in water both in Australia and around the world.

The widespread use of chemically similar illegal drugs could be greatly amplifying the overall contamination problem, he said.

Mr Govindarasu said the contamination of water from legal drugs was linked with effects such as the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 'intersex' fish that have both male and female sex organs.

"They are also suspected of causing reproductive disorders in humans," he said.

"With the high intensity of illicit drug abuse in Australia, we need to find out what happens when more of these things find their way back to us.

"They could be very harmful to fish and soil - and also to the humans who eat fish and vegetables grown with contaminated soil and water.

"Although the concentration of these drugs is probably at low levels, it's still a persistent exposure for the rest of the population."

Mr Govindarasu said the study would also help researchers find out the level of illicit drug abuse in different states.

"We can then identify what bacteria we can use to degrade the drugs and prevent them from going into our food and drinking water," he said.

Mr Govindarasu is delivering his presentation Occurrence of illicit drugs in Adelaide environment at 3pm at the CleanUp 2013 conference in Melbourne.

For more details, visit www.cleanupconference.com.

Topics:  contamination, illegal drugs, melbourne, water supply




Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

3 easy dinner recipes your kids will love, and so will you

No Caption

THERE is a middle ground! Dinners fit for kids and adults.

How to reduce your child's risk of food allergies

ABOUT 90% of food allergies are caused by just seven foods.

5 good mental health habits for kids (and parents)

CRYING OUT FOR HELP: The demand for counselling support for children and young people is increasing.

FORMING good habits early is critical for your child's mental health.

Smack or no smack - where do you stand?

THE debate is reignited - is smacking acceptable?

Susie O'Neill: Why I stopped smacking my children

Swimming legend Susie O'Neill says she has stopped smacking her kids.

“I (smacked) because that’s what I knew growing up."

Introducing a step-parent into the family

Introducing a step-parent into the family can be stressful for the children, as well as the new parent.

THERE is no easy way to introduce a step parent into the family.

Balloons soar for Monique three years after disappearance

THREE years after Monique Clubb went missing - Nikki Duncan, her daughter Ebony and Monique's brother Mickey at Torquay Jetty.

The fight to find Monique hasn’t ended

LETTER: Nanna’s bond can still be as strong

UNITY: When memories fade understanding can help families maintain their close ties.

Grandparents play a vital role in our society

Latest deals and offers

Justice Lucy McCallum

Justice Lucy McCallum

Justice Lucy McCallum says she reduced Oliver Curtis's sentence due to comments...

Hervey Bay Gallery Perception

"Perception" - new exhibition by Artisits Afloat at the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery. Artists Susie Lewis from Hervey Bay and Brian Eugarde from Deception Bay take a look at Brian's sculpture "In the Eye of the Beholder" with Susie's mixed media work "In Bloom" behind them.Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle

Works by Artists Afloat on show at the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery

Perisher has 50cm of snow

Resort to open after 50cm of snow.

Smiggin Holes and Blue Cow to open after 50cm of snaow falls in Perisher valley.

Is this state’s cheapest house?

BARGAIN BUY: Is this North Bundaberg property the cheapest home in Queensland?

Becoming a real estate mogul is all about risk and reward

Rockhampton property in a lull, but a change is coming

Rockhampton's housing market in "pre-election mode"