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NEW DELHI : Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-Madras) have found a high level of pharmaceutical contaminants in river Cauvery.

“The waters of River Cauvery are polluted by a range of emerging contaminants that include pharmaceutically-active compounds, personal care products, plastics, flame retardants, heavy metals, and pesticides, among many others," IIT-Madras said.

Of these, pharmaceutical contamination is particularly serious in India, which is the second-largest drug manufacturing country in the world, it said in a statement. These drug compounds, when released even in minuscule amounts into water bodies, can harm human beings and the ecosystem in the long run, the researchers added.

“Our observations are alarming. So far, not much is known about how pharmaceutical contaminants affect human health and the ecosystem over time. The team’s environmental risk assessment has shown that pharmaceutical contaminants pose medium to high risk to the selected aquatic life-forms of the riverine system," said Ligy Philip, lead researcher and a professor at IIT-M.

These pharmaceutical contaminants included anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and diclofenac, anti-hypertensives such as atenolol and isoprenaline, enzyme inhibitors like perindopril, stimulants like caffeine, antidepressants such as carbamazepine, and antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, IIT said in the statement.

According to the IIT, a team of researchers led by Philip quantified the seasonal distribution of emerging contaminants and pollutants in the River Cauvery. Assessing the quality of the river water helps understand the factors that influence the distribution of contaminants and their impacts on the ecosystem.

“The IIT Madras study showed that it was essential to regularly monitor rivers and their tributaries for contamination by pharmaceutical products. There was also a need to upgrade wastewater treatment systems to reduce the levels of emerging contaminants in receiving water bodies such as rivers. The findings of this work also point to the need for more research into assessing the long-term impacts of emerging contaminants on human health and the environment," said the IIT.

The study was carried out with joint funding from Water Technology Initiatives of the Department of Science and Technology of the union government, and the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

Highlighting the findings of the research, Philip said he and his team of researchers “monitored the water quality of Cauvery River for two years to assess the seasonal variation of emerging contaminants, especially pharmaceutically active compounds."

He said the IIT team collected water from 22 locations along the entire stretch of the river. “We also set up 11 sampling stations near discharge points of partially treated or untreated wastewater and 11 locations near intake points of water supply systems. The quality of water the catchment sites was also monitored," he said.

The research team found that water quality and levels of contaminants in the Cauvery are influenced by the monsoon season. “The post-monsoon period showed an increased level of various types of contaminants including pharmaceuticals due to reduced riverine flow and continuous waste discharge from multiple sources."

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