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Pharmaceutical Pollution: A Growing Threat to Our Rivers & Streams

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Discover the ecological consequences of drugs in freshwaters  

Join Cary President Joshua Ginsberg for a virtual Cary Science Conversation with freshwater ecologist Emma Rosi. Hear about her latest research on how pharmaceutical and personal care product pollution impacts freshwater quality, how these chemicals move through ecosystems, and why the health of our rivers and streams is at risk.  

With every flush and shower, pharmaceuticals and personal care products go down the drain. Many are not filtered out by wastewater treatment, leaving streams and rivers awash in everything from painkillers and antidepressants to amphetamines and illicit drugs. In freshwaters, these biologically active chemicals can impact organisms with reverberating effects on ecological processes. Of particular concern is what happens when animals are dosed with a combination of chemicals, and how these pharmaceutical ‘cocktails’ impact ecosystems.  

Emma Rosi’s research seeks answers to questions like: How do pharmaceuticals change the way stream communities function? What pathways release drugs into freshwaters and how do they move from streams to animals on the land? How do drugs interact with other pollutants like microplastics?  

Discover how streams are threatened by these novel pollutants, how predators like trout and platypus are exposed to drugs in streams, and how she and her team are quantifying annual pharmaceutical loads at the watershed level. (Sneak peek: One watershed in Baltimore, Maryland receives tens of thousands of drug doses annually.)  

Rosi’s team is working to understand impacts of pharmaceutical contamination on freshwaters, and what we can do to protect rivers and streams globally. Learn what steps we can take to stem the tide of pharmaceuticals entering freshwaters. 

Join the conversation. 

Emma Rosi is a leader in the field of novel and emerging freshwater contaminants. She is a senior scientist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and serves on the Ecological Processes and Effects Committee of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

Rosi is advancing our understanding of how land use, urbanization, and climate change shape freshwater ecosystems, with projects exploring environmental contaminants such as pharmaceutical and personal care products, aging wastewater infrastructure, environmental implications of agricultural GMOs, and the effects of dams. 

Rosi directs the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a multi-institution collaboration that has been studying the ecology of Baltimore, Maryland for over two decades. She also co-directs the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, an NSF-funded Long Term Ecological Research site located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  

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