Pharma waste killing Karnataka’s lifeline

By Prakash VL

Water quality of pharma contaminants in Cauvery influenced by monsoon: Study

The lifeline of Karnataka — River Cauvery— is facing a serious threat. According to a group of researchers at IIT-Madras, the river is getting polluted by a range of emerging contaminants that include pharmaceutically-active compounds, personal care products, plastic, flame retardants, heavy metals and pesticides. Research head Dr Ligy Philip highlights that more contaminants were driven towards Karnataka because the state has more tourist and pilgrimage sites along the riverbank when compared to Tamil Nadu. The study also raises an alarm for every Indian as our country is the second-largest pharmaceutical manufacturing country in the world.

“The contamination is mainly due to the discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater from domestic, industrial, agricultural and veterinary origin. Samples were collected from 11 places in Karnataka — Kushalnagar, Harangi reservoir, KR Nagar, KRS dam, Srirangapatna, Triveni Sangam, Kabini/T Narasipura (confluence point), T Narasipura, Purigali, Shivanasamudra and River Arkavathy (Kanakapura),” Dr Philip told Bangalore Mirror.

A team of researchers from IIT Madras led by Dr Ligy Philip, Nita and KG Ganapathi, Institute Chair Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, worked on the project for two years and quantified the seasonal distribution of emerging contaminants and pollutants in River Cauvery. These pharmaceutical compounds, when released even in minimal amounts into water bodies, can harm human beings and the ecosystem in the long run. The research team found that water quality and levels of pharmaceutical 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. “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 Dr Philip.


The contamination is mainly due to the discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater

–Dr Ligy Philip, Research Head

The IIT Madras study suggests that it was essential to regularly monitor rivers and their tributaries for contamination by pharmaceutical products.

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-inflammatory 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.

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Sagar Biswas

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