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Cocaine in River Thames Highlights Water Pollution Concerns

Cocaine in River Thames Highlights Water Pollution Concerns

As Londoners’ addiction to cocaine rises, water quality decreases and wildlife feels the effects. But what are the implications for human health?

A new study from King’s College London reveals that high concentrations of the class A drug cocaine contaminate the River Thames. Concentrations of the illicit drug in samples taken at a monitoring station near the Houses of Parliament were so high, they “lay outside of the quantifiable range”, inews reports.(1)

England and Wales have the highest drug consumption amongst young people in all of Europe. This study reveals that use of cocaine in the capital is now prevalent during the working week, whereas previously it was higher on weekends and lower during the week. In fact, iNews reports that roughly 80,000 lines of coke pollute the River Thames each day,(2) and species that live in the river are paying a high price for Londoners’ drug use.

The research by King’s College London revealed devastating effects to species in the river :

“Cocaine-exposed eels appeared hyperactive… with evidence of serious injury including muscle breakdown and swelling.” (3)

Why is cocaine in water?

Cocaine makes its way into waterways through a simple process: users urinate, flush and waste water is sent to water treatment plants. But these plants fail to filter out cocaine and the result is widespread contamination of surface water. As our M.D., Roger Wiltshire, explains:

 “Water Utilities are failing to remove cocaine from waste water, which means our water courses are likely to see ever-increasing levels of drug residue. And, if cocaine isn’t effectively removed, we can be sure that other drug residues will also be getting through.”

It’s not just cocaine; anything humans ingest can make its way into our waterways, from cocaine and other illicit drugs, to prescribed medicines and hormonal treatments. Anything our washing machines flush out also makes its way there, including plastic fibres from clothing such as fleece. Human behaviour contaminates our most precious resource, water.

Does this have implications for tap water?

In a word, yes.

“Since our water supplies are in part recycled, processed water, then it follows that what goes around comes around.” Roger Wiltshire, M.D PureH2O Ltd.

Sadly, we know that UK tap water contains a wide variety of pollutants resulting from human behaviour, as well as naturally occurring impurities. These include traces of cocaine as well as other drugs, medicines  and hormones. Plastic fibres are also present in tap water, thanks to single-use plastics pollution and the washing of man-made clothing. Pesticides and fertilisers used by the agricultural sector are also found in tap water, as well as chemicals from industry and a variety of micro-organisms including those associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

As Daniel Snow, the director of the Water Sciences Laboratory at the University of Nebraska, told National Geographic:

“You can basically treat anything to any degree of purity, it’s just about how much money you want to put into the treatment process.” (4)

Just because water utilities aren’t taking sufficient responsibility for removing drugs and other pollutants from our water sources – and from the drinking water that comes out of our taps – doesn’t mean all these contaminants and impurities are a fait accompli you have to accept. Read on the for the alternatives.

Don’t rush out to buy a water filter.

We know that water filters may spring to mind as your first-line of defence. But these do very little to improve the quality of your water. This infographic says it all:

Comparison of Tap Filtered, Bottled and Pure Water
Comparison of Tap Filtered, Bottled and Pure Water in terms of total dissolved solids.

Don’t bother with bottled water, either.

Think bottled is the answer to safe drinking water? Even if you could put to one side the devastating impact of single-use plastics production and pollution on the environment (which no-one ever should, let’s face it), bottled water is a poor choice. It’s even more contaminated with microplastics than tap water.

Water Purity is possible, with PureH2O.

Yes, humans are having appalling effects on the environment. Tap water and bottled water contains contaminants and impurities that may have a negative impact on human health. But safe, sustainable drinking water is not an impossible dream.

It’s not even a technological conundrum. Here at PureH2O Ltd we know first hand from 30 years’ experience in the field of water purification that it is possible to remove drugs, medications, plastics, metals, pesticides, fertilisers and more from tap water. Roger Wiltshire, M.D. of PureH2O Ltd, reminds us that:

“For the perfect drinking water we all have the choice to treat our water at the point of use (in our homes, offices, in restaurants and hotels). No other process is as effective at removing all drug residues, and for that matter all other impurities, as the advanced patented reverse osmosis with de-ionisation (RODI) process within PureH2O Purity water purifiers.”

Order Your Purity Water Purifier Today

Water purification in your home is easy, convenient and affordable with the PureH2O Purity range of tap water purifiers. Designed to treat UK tap water, they remove up to 99.99% of all contaminants and impurities to deliver unlimited quantities of safe, sustainable pure drinking water day in, day out. We have a range of models to suit your needs and budget, and commercial configurations, too.

You can read more about our Purity advanced water purification systems here and purchase online, too. Alternatively call us on 01483 617000, we’d be delighted to answer any questions you may have.

(Edited 08.02.19 to improve citations.)


1. & 2. Martin, L. ’Hyperactive Thames eels found to have ingested cocaine from polluted London water supply’ iNews 21.01.19 accessed 24.01.19

3. Capaldo et al., ‘Effects of environmental cocaine concentrations on the skeletal muscle of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla)’ Science of the Total Environment  01.11.18 vol. 640-641 pp. 862-873 accessed 31.01.19

4. Reported by Earl, J ’Cocaine in London river is making eels ‘hyperactive,’ researchers say’ in Fox News 21.01.19 accessed 31.01.19

Further Reading

Grafton-Green, P. ‘Eels in Thames ‘left hyperactive due to high levels of cocaine in water’ Evening Standard 22.01.19 accessed 24.01.19

Munro, K et al., ‘Evaluation of combined sewer overflow impacts on short-term pharmaceutical and illicit drug occurrence in a heavily urbanised tidal river catchment (London, UK)’ Science of the Total Environment, 20.03.19 vol. 657 pp. 1099-1111 accessed 31.01.19


PureH2O Ltd manufactures, installs and maintains the world’s most innovative water purification systems and the most technologically advanced boiling, chilled and sparkling water taps. Since 1991 we have been committed to providing our domestic and commercial customers with the purest, safest, most sustainable choice of drinking water, which helps them reduce their environmental impact by avoiding single-use plastic bottled water.

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