sullied-sediments

Toothpaste, soap and the pill threaten waterway wildlife

Research at the University of Hull has found that everyday products, including toothpaste, soap and the contraceptive pill, are posing a threat to wildlife in many of Britain’s inland waterways.

Chemicals found in personal care products and pharmaceuticals, such as the pill and the painkiller diclofenac, are accumulating in rivers and canals from both domestic and industrial waste.

Known as ‘watch list chemicals’, they have so-called ‘gender bender’ effects on some wildlife which begin to show both male and female characteristics, affecting reproduction.

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 the waters above.

The University of Hull is leading a €4.4-million Europe-wide project which aims to discover more about the impact and presence of these chemicals.

It will also seek to offer solutions by improving 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 more informed choices about their future purchases.

Many of the chemicals come from our industrial past, but our current activities still contribute. The public has the potential to prevent such chemicals entering the environment by careful choice of the products they choose, and how they dispose of them. Professor Jeanette Rotchell,
Lead researcher, University of Hull

Lead researcher Professor Jeanette Rotchell, 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.

“Many of the chemicals come from our industrial past, but our current activities still contribute. The public has the potential to prevent such chemicals entering the environment by careful choice of the products they choose, and how they dispose of them

“Obviously, we don’t want people to stop taking the contraceptive pill, but over the next year there will be activities to see if we can convince people to change their purchasing so we can monitor this to see a change in levels.

“It’s about people having impact on their local environment and reducing these chemicals by changing their habits.”

The project, called Sullied Sediments, has been funded by the North Sea Region programme of the European Regional Development Fund.

It is running a pilot scheme to reduce three of these chemicals arriving at waste water treatment plants in three regions across Europe – the Humber, the Elbe in Holland and the Scheldt in Germany.

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