episode 11

Down the drain - 1

When things go down the drain, have we really flushed them out of our lives?
How do we know which chemicals accumulate, which are safe or not?
Why care about fish changing sex?

In this episode, we talk about emerging contaminants, pseudo-persistence and One-Health 

You are probably aware, by now, that we should not pour fat down the kitchen sink or flush tampons, condoms, wet wipes, hair, floss down the toilet. These clog the system at home or in the sewers or wastewater treatment plants. In the UK at least, the media and people have a morbid fascination with what they call ‘fatbergs’ gathered / congealed masses of fat in the sewers.

There is also increasing awareness of microplastics – bits of plastic that is too small to see or barely  visible – — from microbeads in toiletries to microfibres from synthetic clothing, blankets, rags, and the like. We will get to this in Down the Drain 2.

How about toiletries like make up, cleansers, shampoos and conditioners? How about medicines like painkillers, antidepressants, birth control pills and antibiotics? You may assume because they are certified to be used on and in our bodies, they must be alright for the environment too. That could be the case if the chemical ingredients were not accumulating in the environment. 

We can always revisit our choices to use such products. But even when we need / want to use them, we can learn to take care of the pathways from use to disposal – pls don’t flush your unused medicine down the toilet for example! See the simplified flowchart below (from reference 1) that shows the journey of chemicals from medicines to the environment.

And as for people who are working in environmental science, policy and economics – indeed for everyone, next time you think of your health, think of One Health…not human health vs others but that the environment needs to be healthy for humans to be healthy. 

Our guest in this episode is Dr Eunice Ubomba-Jaswa joined us in this episode. She holds a PhD in Microbiology from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and an MSc in Medical Microbiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her areas of expertise lie in microbiological water quality and how it ultimately affects public health. Dr Ubomba-Jaswa is currently a Research Manager: Water Resources Quality at the Water Research Commission (WRC) in South Africa where she works on water pollution and human health, emerging contaminants (microbial and chemical) and removal of contaminants.

*** The views we and our guests express in this podcast are our own ***