Understanding the connectivity of pharmaceutical pollution in river catchments

A volunteer carries sampling equipment during one of our field sampling campaigns

Due to the risks it poses to non-target organisms and public health, the near ubiquitous presence of pharmaceutical compounds in environmental waters [1] represents an emerging cause for concern. However, there have been few attempts at a quantitative assessment of the relative contributions for different sources and pathways for pharmaceutical pollution [2] and we have only begun to understand the multitude of factors that affect the composition, as well as the spatial and temporal distribution of pharmaceutical contamination in environmental waters [3]. A more holistic approach is needed to develop effective management strategies that conform to the catchment-based approach, although this is complicated by the patchy nature of available monitoring data for river water and by the significant seasonal variation in concentrations which makes comparisons even within datasets tenuous.

The aim of this research is to improve our understanding of how pharmaceutical pollutants are distributed throughout river catchments and the factors determining these observed patterns. This understanding will serve to develop a network-based representation of their transport that may be used to inform more tailored management practices, ultimately helping to determine priority locations for interventions to limit the impact of pharmaceutical pollutants on river ecosystems.



    • Developing an evidence base of sources and pathways for pharmaceuticals in UK river catchments;
    • Assessing temporal and spatial patterns of pharmaceutical pollution on a catchment scale in a UK river catchment;
    • Using a simple model to test hypotheses concerning fates of pharmaceuticals in river catchments;
    • Identifying potential priority intervention points to reduce the impact of pharmaceutical pollution.

Recent Conference Poster – SETAC 2023



[1] C.G. Daughton. 2016. Pharmaceuticals and the Environment (PiE): Evolution and impact of the published literature revealed by bibliometric analysis. Sci. Total Environ. 562: 391–426.

[2] E.E. Burns, L.J. Carter, D.W. Kolpin, J. Thomas-Oates, A.B.A. Boxall. 2018. Temporal and spatial variation in pharmaceutical concentrations in an urban river system. Water Res. 137: 72–85.

[3] L. Comoretto, S. Chiron. Comparing pharmaceutical and pesticide loads into a small Mediterranean river. Sci. Total Environ. 349: 201–210.

[4] D. White, D.J. Lapworth, W. Civil, P. Williams. 2019. Tracking changes in the occurrence and source of pharmaceuticals within the River Thames, UK; from source to sea. Environ. Pollut. 249: 257–266.


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Understanding the connectivity of pharmaceutical pollution in river catchments


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