MADRID – Based on a scientific study, researchers consider it proven that insecticides and drugs poison Spanish rivers. Furthermore, they threaten aquatic ecosystems in areas of high ecological value.
Logically, they also occur in high concentrations in unprotected nature areas. This is according to a study conducted by SEO/Birdlife in collaboration with the Institute for Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC) and the Research Institute of Hunting Resources (IREC-CSIC, UCLM, JCCM).
The presence of 59 organic micropollutants from different chemical families has been demonstrated in the waters of 140 Important Areas for the Conservation of Birds and Biodiversity (IBA) across Spain.
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Moreover, the insecticide chlorpyrifos and the drug venlafaxine are the most concerning substances discovered. This is because of their severe, persistent and bioaccumulative neurotoxic effects on aquatic fauna.
The aquatic ecosystems (IBA) most affected by this pollution are as follows;
- La Campiña de Carmona (Seville)
- Saladares de Guadalentín (Murcia)
- Hoces del Turia in Los Serrano (Valencia)
Consequently, the results show that agricultural activity and densely populated areas are the biggest sources of pollution.
Study of diffuse pollution
“Studying the problem of diffuse pollution is essential, which is why we are promoting this work from SEO/BirdLife. Therefore, by having a representative sample of the impact of litter, we can know the magnitude of the problem. Moreover, the data confirms that we are dealing with a widespread environmental and public health problem. It is therefore of the utmost importance that solutions come on the ground. Monitoring to see how it evolves and much more research,” emphasises Asuncion Ruiz, the Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife.
The study is part of the LIBERA project developed by SEO/BirdLife in collaboration with Ecoembes to analyse the presence of pollutants from waste in key bird conservation and biodiversity (IBA) areas. Of the 469 IBAs identified in Spain, 140 representative areas with different habitats were selected. Here, water, soil, sediment and fox droppings were taken to analyse the presence of pollutants caused by litter abandonment and assess their impact on the natural environment.
The study shows that drugs such as venlafaxine, carbamazepine or tramadol were present in 84% of the samples. Caffeine and nicotine were also detected in 76% of the samples analysed. Pesticides, organophosphorus esters, perfluorinated compounds (components of Gore-Tex®, Teflon or firefighting foams, and used in the food industry, construction and household products) and benzophenone (used in cosmetics and as an additive in the plastics industry) were also found.
“This is the first study to quantify water pollution in the IBAs, covering a wide diversity of ecosystems in Spain. Furthermore, it indicates that organic micropollutants pose a threat to freshwater ecosystems, essential for biodiversity conservation,” explains Octavio Infante. He is the author of the study and head of the SEO/BirdLife Space Conservation Program.
“Of the 59 contaminants we found, 15 are present with a high level of risk to the aquatic ecosystems of the IBAs. The most concerning substances we have discovered are the insecticide chlorpyrifos due to its neurotoxic effect, the antidepressant venlafaxine because it is a bioactive drug and is widely distributed in water, and the perfluorinated compound PFOS with a high bioaccumulation capacity,” says Maria Dulsat-Masvidal She is a predoctoral researcher at IDAEA-CSIC and lead author of the study.
Too many guilty
Moreover, the work indicates the pollutants come primarily from agricultural and human activities. But also from wastewater from water treatment plants. “Chemical pollution can have detrimental effects when it reaches aquatic ecosystems because it causes habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity in the most vulnerable places,” said Rafael Mateo, IREC-CSIC researcher and author of the study.
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The work emphasises the importance of monitoring aquatic ecosystems in IBAs and other natural areas. “With these results, we want to manage this space and other natural areas to minimise the impact of chemical pollution,” concludes Silvia Lacorte, IDAEA-CSIC researcher and lead author of the study.