Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Illegal drugs and sedatives in surface water

12 May 2011

The Rhine and Meuse rivers contain very low concentrations of amphetamines, sedatives, opiates and cocaine. This conclusion comes from a study by the RIVM together with the University of Amsterdam, KWR Watercycle Research Institute and the Spanish Universiteit Jaume I.

The Rhine and Meuse rivers contain very low concentrations of amphetamines, sedatives, opiates and cocaine. This conclusion comes from a study by the RIVM together with the University of Amsterdam, KWR Watercycle Research Institute and the Spanish Universiteit Jaume I.

A total of 65 water samples from rivers, drinking water and urban wastewater were screened for the presence of 37 different illicit substances and their derivatives that all fall under the Dutch Opium Law. Thereby, it constitutes the largest set of opiates that can currently be detected. The use of recently developed advanced measuring techniques (high resolution mass spectrometry) made it possible to analyze the compounds in question.

A large part of the substances that were studied in the Meuse and Rhine enters The Netherlands from abroad. However, wastewater from Dutch sewage plants also contributes. The concentrations of the compounds analyzed proved to be similar to those found in other Western European countries.

The study also shows that, while present in surface water, most of the compounds in question are removed or at least have their concentrations strongly reduced upon purification during drinking water production. As a result in drinking water only 3 compounds (sedatives) could still be detected; at quantities that do not pose an acute risk for human health.

More cocaine in Amsterdam than in Utrecht

Pim de Voogt, Special Chair of (Emerging) Water Contaminants at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) coordinated the contribution of the UvA.

“An interesting additional result is that the measured concentrations enabled us to estimate and compare the cocaine consumption in a number of cities”, says De Voogt, who in addition to his professorship at the UvA also works for KWR Watercycle Research, “The comparison between cities showed for instance that in Amsterdam the use of cocaine per 1000 inhabitants is much higher than in the city of Utrecht”.

The study received ample attention from the national media. In addition to articles about the study in NRC Handelsblad, Trouw, Het Parool and De Telegraaf, De Voogt was interviewed amongs others by Q-Music, AT5 Radio and Radio Rijnmond.

Published by  IBED