EPA is asked about checking illicit drug levels in Irish water

Data involving 50 cities published in 2015 found that London’s river Thames was the worst for cocaine levels in sewage

 Kate O’Connell: “I think in London the eels were behaving bizarrely in the Thames at some point.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Kate O’Connell: “I think in London the eels were behaving bizarrely in the Thames at some point.” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The environmental watchdog has been asked what it is doing to monitor the presence of illicit drugs in Irish water following research in some European cities that traced high amounts of cocaine.

Appearing at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was told the issue was important and required attention.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said a number of recent reports had revealed high levels of illicit drugs in drinking water supplies, and that it was a potential threat to human health.

“I think in London the eels were behaving bizarrely in the Thames at some point,” she said.

“[I am] deadly serious – there is a number of European countries where drinking water has been found to have a quantity of drugs be they illicit or otherwise which I would be very concerned about in terms of foetal development and in terms of just regular development.”

EPA director general Laura Burke said the agency was required to test for a wide range of substances in drinking water, but would have to seek clarity regarding illicit drugs.

Ms O’Connell said “illicit or otherwise”, the issue of drugs in the water supply was “very important given it’s a problem in other European countries, and I just think it needs to be monitored”.

Several reports have emerged about recreational drug pollution in water supply, although Ms O’Connell appeared to be referring to a study reported in a National Geographic article last year entitled “Some rivers are so drug-polluted, their eels get high on cocaine”.

Although societies have long grappled with illicit drug use, it reported, “less understood are the downstream effects these drugs might have on other species” as a result of pollution.

It was describing a study published in Science of the Total Environment which found a high presence of illicit drugs and their metabolites in surface waters worldwide, most severe near densely populated cities.

Drug users

Separately, data from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction published in 2015, measuring more than 50 cities, found London’s river Thames was the worst for cocaine levels in sewage.

It revealed that drug users in London relieved themselves of 737mg of cocaine per 1,000 people during one week in 2014, with amounts detected in waste water peaking at the weekend.

The EPA is currently funding research measuring the release of certain substances into the environment which includes pharmaceuticals but not illicit drugs.

A spokeswoman explained that routine inspections for recreational drugs in drinking water was not explicitly required in Ireland or Europe, and where they are monitored it tends to be linked to specific research.

“Many European cities like London and Amsterdam take their water from rivers and lakes in low parts of the river catchment, and would have many cities and towns discharging treated wastewater upstream of the intake for their drinking water sources,” she said.

“In Ireland the vast majority of our urban waste-water discharges are located in coastal or estuarine areas. As such most of our drinking water treatment plants do not have waste-water discharges upstream of them, and therefore the risk is much lower than cities like London or Amsterdam.”