Cauvery polluted by range of contaminants, including pharma compounds: IIT-M team

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on October 07, 2021

Researchers taking samples from the rive   -  Special Arrangement

There was significant contamination by metals such as arsenic, zinc, chromium, lead and nickel

Indian Institute of Technology Madras researchers have found that the waters of the Cauvery river are polluted by a range of emerging contaminants that include pharmaceutically active compounds, personal care products, plastics, flame retardants, heavy metals and pesticides.

A team of researchers from IIT Madras led by Ligy Philip, Nita and KG Ganapathi Institute Chair Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, quantified the seasonal distribution of emerging contaminants and pollutants in the Cauvery.

This study has been carried out with joint funding from Water Technology Initiatives of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

The team monitored the water quality of the river for two years to assess the seasonal variation of emerging contaminants, especially pharmaceutically active compounds. It collected water from 22 locations along the entire stretch of the river, 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 at the catchment sites was also monitored. The team found that water quality and levels of pharmaceutical contaminants in the Cauvery river 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, the release said.

‘Extra ordinarily high’

There was significant contamination by metals such as arsenic, zinc, chromium, lead and nickel. Freshwater intake points were also found to be loaded with extraordinarily high concentrations of pharmaceutical contaminants.

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.

The 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, the release said.

Published on October 07, 2021

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