New analysis of official Environment Agency data has revealed the worrying scale of chemical cocktail pollution in rivers and other freshwater sites across England. The research, which looked at the prevalence of 5 chemical cocktails known to have toxic impacts for wildlife, also highlights the lack of official monitoring for known harmful chemical cocktails, as well as the lack of a regulatory framework to address these mixtures.

Findings from Wildlife and Countryside Link and The Rivers Trust reveal that:

  • Chemical cocktails, that have been proven harmful to wildlife in scientific studies, have been found in 814 river and lake sites (out of 1,006 sites with data – 81%) and 805 groundwater sites (out of 1,086 sites with data – 74%) across England
  • Over half (54%) of these sites contained 3 or more of the 5 harmful chemical cocktails investigated
  • Up to 101 chemicals were identified in river samples, with sites along the rivers Mersey, Stour, Colne, Thames, Trent, Yare, Irwell, Medway, Humber and Avon among those containing the highest numbers of chemicals. The actual numbers of chemical pollutants will be even higher

    Please see the document below for a regional breakdown of the research findings.

Chemical Cocktail regional breakdown.docx.pdf (89.61 KB)

The chemical cocktails found across the 1,619 sites contained six different chemicals in 5 different hazardous mixtures. These included four toxic forever chemicals PFOS, PFOA, PFBS and PFHxS, the pesticide 2,4-D and the commonly used painkiller ibuprofen (see table below for more detail). In specific combinations these chemicals are known to have increased harmful impacts on a range of species including amphibians, fish, insects, nitrogen-fixing bacteria and algae. Identified detrimental effects included reduced growth, cell function, impacts on embryos and lower survival rates. Any potential human health implications, for example through contact via bathing or recreation, remain unknown.

Some of the sites where all five chemical cocktails were found include: The Chelt (in Cheltenham); The Derwent (in Yorkshire); The Trent (in Staffordshire); The Exe (in Devon); The Ouse (in Lewes East Sussex); the Wansbeck (in Northumberland); and the Yare (in Norfolk).

A group of charities, including Wildlife and Countryside Link, The Rivers Trust, Surfers Against Sewage, Buglife, WildFish, Fidra, Pesticide Action Network UK, The Wildlife Trusts, The National Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Pesticide Collaboration, are launching a ‘Chemical Cocktail Campaign’ today, urging the Government to take a much more ambitious approach to regulating harmful chemicals. Their calls include asking Government to include in its forthcoming UK Chemicals Strategy: regular monitoring for chemical cocktails in rivers, and new legal protections against dangerous chemical cocktails, including requiring assessments of potential hazardous chemical mixture impacts before any new chemical is allowed on the market.

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