Skip to main content

Risk of drug discharge recognised on continent

Leading research into regulation of drug discharge into Europe's rivers has led to improved sewage treatment and policy change across the continent.

A study by Dr Edwin Routledge showing that steroid oestrogens excreted by women were responsible for the oestrogenic activity of the effluent, and by Prof Susan Jobling, who demonstrated that there was widespread feminisation of wild male fish occurring in UK rivers that received this effluent.

It followed work by Prof John Sumpter from Brunel's Institute for the Environment, who discovered high levels of a female-specific protein in the blood of male fish living downstream of sewage treatment works between 1987 and 1990.

These and further studies have raised the profile of the Institute significantly and increased the national and international understanding of the threat of pharmaceuticals in the water supply.

They have gone on to inform Government policy on the presence of steroid oestrogens in the aquatic environment and the risk to wildlife.

Such was the higher profile afforded to this field of work, the water industry would, between 2006 and 2010, conduct The Endocrine Disruptor Demonstration Programme to understand more about different treatment technologies and the sources of chemicals entering the sewerage system. Brunel academics not only informed this work but were directly responsible for some of the information gathering required.

The Institute's work in this area was recognised in 2011 when it was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Trust Prize in recognition of the team's success in translating research into European policy.