Household products, including toothpaste, soaps and common drugs are putting many of Britain’s inland waterways under threat.
Chemicals found in personal care products and pharmaceuticals are accumulating in rivers and canals as a result of day-to-day activities and industry.
These chemicals, which also include the contraceptive pill and painkiller diclofenac and have been shown to be harmful to wildlife.
Known as ‘watch list chemicals’, they have so-called ‘gender bender’ effects. Wildlife originally meant to be either male or female begin to show both characteristics. This in turn affects the reproduction of fish and other organisms, and therefore affects the population.
Watch list chemicals have been identified by the EU as potentially toxic, or shown to alter the hormone balance in organisms living in both the sediment and waters above.
Now, a €4.4-million Europe-wide project, led by the University of Hull, aims to discover more information about the impact and presence of these chemicals and offer solutions to improve the removal of the chemicals from waste water treatment plants, before they enter the waterways.
The project will also raise awareness among the public in the hope they will make informed choices about their future purchases.
Professor Jeanette Rotchell, lead researcher, at the University of Hull, said: “Our inland waterways have been environments for disposal of chemicals for decades. Gradually these chemicals have accumulated in the sediments on our river beds. Common examples include chemicals found in slug pellets, which gets washed away into drains, and ultimately our waterways.