Pet Flea Meds Ravage River Ecosystems in England, Study Finds

The pesticides are very dangerous for the insects, fish and birds that live on or near the rivers.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The River Eden in Cumbria was one the rivers included in the study.BerndBrueggemann/iStock

When your pet has fleas, you immediately seek treatment. This treatment usually involves the use of a heavy insecticide. What you don't realize is that that pesticide treatment has long-term consequences.


Researchers have discovered that insecticides originating from pets are now showing up in England's rivers, polluting the waters and poisoning their inhabitants and all who depend on them for sustenance.

The highly toxic insecticide fipronil was found in 99% of samples from 20 rivers, researchers told The Guardian

“Fipronil is one of the most commonly used flea products and recent studies have shown it degrades to compounds that are more toxic to most insects than fipronil itself,” told The Guardian Rosemary Perkins at the University of Sussex, who led the study. “Our results are extremely concerning.”

The new study is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment and takes into consideration almost 4,000 analyses on samples collected between 2016-2018. Fipronil and a highly toxic breakdown product called fipronil sulfone were spotted respectively in concentrations 5 and 38 times higher than their chronic toxicity limits. 

Furthermore, the highest levels of pesticides were discovered downstream from water treatment plants, indicating that cities were the main source. “It has to be the flea treatments causing the pollution,” Dave Goulson, also at the University of Sussex and part of the team, told The Guardian. “Really, there’s no other conceivable source.”

The researchers estimate that the pesticides in the rivers come from the washing of pets as well as pets swimming. “I couldn’t quite believe the pesticides were so prevalent. Our rivers are routinely and chronically contaminated with both of these chemicals," Goulson added.

He further emphasized that the problem is that these chemicals are so potent that they can produce a significant impact on insect life in rivers, as well as on the bird and fish that feed on these water sources.


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