By T. V. Padma
Studies increasingly point to the presence of pharmaceutical and personal care products in urban stretches along the Ganges River, which originates pristine in the Himalayas but is heavily polluted with industrial effluents and domestic sewage when it empties into the Bay of Bengal.
Researchers from Doon University, Dehra Dun, India, have reported the presence of 15 pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in the Ganges near two Hindu pilgrimage cities. These pollutants include caffeine, anti-inflammatory drugs, common antibiotics, beta blockers, antibacterials, and insect repellents.
Over three seasons, Doon scientists studied the river waters of two cities in the rapidly industrializing Himalayan state of Uttarakhand: Haridwar, where the Ganges enters India's northern plains from the Himalayas, and Rishikesh, 21 kilometers away. Haridwar and Rishikesh, with a combined population of 400,000, attract an estimated 20 million tourists and pilgrims annually.
In particular, the scientists analyzed the water at its point of entry into the two cities and at sites before its entry into a sewage treatment plant and after sewage treatment. The study could provide useful baseline data for forecasting and evaluating the efficiency of future antipollution measures of the river basin restoration program, the authors added.
"Compared to previous studies that analyzed samples along various locations along the Ganges, this is the first comprehensive, intensive study in a particular city along the river," said Surendra Suthar, an associate professor at Doon University and one of the study's authors.
PPCP concentrations near the cities varied, with the highest measured concentration being 1,104.84 nanograms per liter. Researchers found higher PPCP concentrations at the lower, more populated reaches of the river. The concentrations, especially of anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, were also higher in winter, possibly because of decreased biodegradation associated with lower temperatures and inadequate sunlight, the report said. The study also showed that PPCPs in the region were associated with a higher risk of algal blooms and a moderate risk to the health of river fish.
"The high load of PPCPs during summer and winter could be attributed to the excessive tourist visits for recreational activities and spiritual congregations during these seasons," according to the report, to be published in Chemosphere in April.
Paucity of Studies
There are few studies on PPCPs in Indian rivers. "Such studies are expensive, as they require sophisticated instruments," Suthar explained.
"Sewage, treated or untreated, flowing into the rivers is the main polluter," said Keshava Balakrishna, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Manipal Institute of Technology. Sewage and effluent have long been associated with chemical pollution, as people flush medicines, cosmetics, and hygiene products down the toilet or throw them in the trash. The waste ends up in water treatment plants and landfills and then makes its way into water supplies such as the Ganges.
"Aquaculture, agricultural farms, and pharma industries can be other important sources," Balakrishna added.
In 2020, Balakrishna's team reported the presence of PPCPs in two tropical rivers in southwestern India, the Swarna and Netravati, which empty into the Arabian Sea.
A 2017 review by a team of scientists including Balakrishna in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety found higher levels of pharmaceuticals in Indian water treatment plants compared with developed countries. The review also pointed out the paucity of studies in India on the fate of pharmaceutical products in water bodies and their impact on human health, "despite India being one of the world leaders in pharmaceutical production and consumption."
The 2017 review reported that studies from other countries indicated that PPCPs in rivers could accumulate in aquatic organisms and enter the food web. Antibiotic resistance among microbes is the main threat to human and ecological health, Balakrishna said. "Low doses of antibiotics in a river can be consumed by pathogens in the river, [which then] become superbugs, and multiply."
Suthar, too, cautions about both toxicity in the food web and the emergence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens contaminating river waters. "If we add up all the individual contaminant levels for 1 liter of water, the collective dose will be very toxic, especially if they bioaccumulate in organisms, including some rare species in the Ganges such as the Ganges dolphins," he said. "And microbes in the waters will become resistant to the drugs."
A 2019 global review of PPCPs in rivers reported that "no global legal maximum environmental concentrations exist for pharmaceutically active compounds," despite poor understanding of the combined acute and chronic effects of PPCPs on flora, fauna, and human health.
The global review went on to say that primary and secondary wastewater treatment plants "generally are unable to remove these pollutants, leading to their migration into drinking water supplies," and recommended advanced tertiary water treatment processes, such as oxidation and adsorption. It also suggested advanced methods for accurate and continuous monitoring of pharmaceuticals in the environment and strict regulations for effluent release.
In India, most antipollution efforts are directed at surface water treatment and focus on parameters such as chemical oxygen demand, biological oxygen demand, nitrates, and bacteria, said Suthar. "We need a policy that looks at PPCPs too."
The source of the Ganges is the Gangotri Glacier, high in the Himalayas less than 200 kilometers from Haridwar. The recent findings on PPCPs in the Ganges add to research documenting chemical and microplastic pollution throughout the mountain range, including the world's highest peak, Mount Everest, said Kimberley Miner, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and a research assistant professor at the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine. "Our team found PFAS [polyfluoroalkyl substances], DDT [dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane], and toxic metals on the mountain, suggesting that the chemical footprint left by trekkers may be as large as the visible trash and pollution footprint."
The new Ganges research also echoes recent studies tracing PPCPs on European glaciers, where researchers traced chemical pollutants to the use of perfumes in personal care products like soap. Perfumed soaps and ointments are also associated with PPCPs in Haridwar and Rishikesh, where mass bathing events are part of tourism and pilgrimage activities.
This story originally appeared in Eos and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›