Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Freshwater sources all over the planet continue to host greater and greater concentrations of pharmaceuticals, causing a variety of ecological problems.
In order to better understand the scope of the problem, scientists surveyed the levels of two drugs, arbamazepine and ciprofloxacin, in freshwater samples collected across the globe. Arbamazepine is an anti-epileptic drug; ciprofloxacin is an antibiotic.
As the new research makes clear, more data is needed to understand the problem of pharmaceutical pollution.
"Getting an accurate picture of the environmental risks of pharmaceuticals around the world depends on the availability of data, which is limited," Rik Oldenkamp, researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said in a news release. "It's true that there are models, such as the ePiE model, which can give detailed predictions of pharmaceutical concentrations in the environment, but these are often only applicable to places where we already have a lot of information, such as rivers in Europe."
The latest analysis by Oldenkamp and his colleagues showed arbamazepine and ciprofloxacin concentrations increased dramatically between 1995 and 2015. Over the same time space, scientists estimated the ecological risked posed by the two drugs increased 10 to 20 times.
Researchers shared the results of their analysis this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"The concentrations of this antibiotic can be harmful for bacteria in the water, and these bacteria in turn play an important role in various nutrient cycles," Oldenkamp said. "Antibiotics can also have a negative impact on the effectiveness of bacteria colonies used in wastewater treatment."
Most studies of antibiotic resistance focus on the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals and among livestock, but the problem also has important ecological effects. Authors of the new study argue the natural environment also acts as a control mechanism, preventing the spread of various pathogens.
The environment's efficacy as a control mechanism, researchers warn in the new paper, is being diminished by the proliferation of pharmaceutical pollution.
"Our model predicts a relatively high environmental risk for ecoregions in densely populated and dry areas such as the Middle East, yet those are precisely the areas where there is little data on pharmaceutical use and concentrations in surface waters," said Oldenkamp.
Using regression models based on the use of pharmaceuticals in other countries, as well relevant socio-economic and demographic data, scientists predicted increasing levels of pharmaceutical usage in the Middle East, where large populations share limited freshwater resources and wastewater treatment infrastructure is often overburdened.
"Our model shows a particular need for new data in these types of areas," said Oldenkamp. "The model is really a starting point for creating an insight into the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals all over the world."