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1 May 2019, 08:40 | Updated: 1 May 2019, 08:43
Cocaine, pharmaceuticals and banned pesticides have been found in Suffolk's waterways.
Researchers at King's College London have collaborated with the University of Suffolk to look at samples from 15 sites across the county.
They examined the exposure of wildlife, such as shrimp, to different micropollutants (chemicals found at exceptionally low levels).
Consumer products, medicines and drugs can end up in rivers after use and comprise thousands of different chemicals which have the potential to cause environmental harm.
Cocaine was found in all the samples tested, and other illicit drugs such as ketamine, pesticides and pharmaceuticals were also widespread in the shrimp that were collected.
Lead author, Dr Thomas Miller from King’s College London said: "Although concentrations were low, we were able to identify compounds that might be of concern to the environment and crucially, which might pose a risk to wildlife.
"As part of our ongoing work, we found that the most frequently detected compounds were illicit drugs, including cocaine and ketamine and a banned pesticide, fenuron. Although for many of these, the potential for any effect is likely to be low."
Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk said: "Whether the presence of cocaine in aquatic animals is an issue for Suffolk, or more widespread an occurrence in the UK and abroad, awaits further research. Environmental health has attracted much attention from the public due to challenges associated with climate change and microplastic pollution. However, the impact of ‘invisible’ chemical pollution (such as drugs) on wildlife health needs more focus in the UK as policy can often be informed by studies such as these."
Dr Leon Barron from King’s College London added: "Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising. We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments. The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the UK also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear."