Are drugs discharged into the Yamuna toxic to aquatic life?

• A recent study reveals the effects of the discharge of drug-containing effluents into the Yamuna.

Key highlights

• Human body does not use the entire quantity of the drug when it is taken.
• Resultantly, most of it is excreted and thus end up in aquatic systems via domestic sewage.

• The study thus looks at the occurrence, fate and ecological risks of these compounds.

• It observed nine different pharmaceutical active compounds in the Yamuna river.

• These are six over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, ranitidine, caffeine, diclofenac) and three prescription drugs (carbamazepine, codeine, diazepam).

Key findings

• The highest concentration of pharmaceutical compounds was located downstream Wazirabad at the point where Najafgarh drain joins the Yamuna.

• This is one of the largest drains of Delhi and has an average discharge of about 25 cubic metres per second.

• This drain is the largest polluter of the river contributing more than 50% of the total discharge into the Yamuna.

• At this site, ibuprofen and paracetamol were found at a high concentration of 1.49 and 1.08 microgram per litre respectively.

• Previous studies have shown that even small concentration of ibuprofen could cause an antagonistic effect on aquatic organisms.

• Studies have also shown that ibuprofen exposure could increase cyanobacterial growth in the water.

• Caffeine was found in high concentration in most of the sites.

• Caffeine is used as a stimulant in medicine. Residue from beverages and other food products may also be a contributor.


• The individual levels of the drugs were small and cannot cause acute toxicity to the marine life.

• But the mixture of compounds can “possibly cause chronic toxicity” to aquatic life and to humans who use this water for drinking purposes.

• This not only affects the biodiversity of the river but can also lead to the rise of superbugs.

• The discharge of drug-containing effluents in rivers and other water bodies can potentially make many microbes drug-resistant.

• The sewage treatment plants are not designed to take care of these pharmaceutical compounds.

• The study thus highlights the need for the government to bring in the guidelines or specific rules to arrest and address this.


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Prelims level: Drugs mentioned in the newscard

Mains level: Water pollution crisis faced by India and how it can be toned down

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