Traces of cocaine, caffeine and drugs in the Antarctic sea


A new study analyzed several water samples from different parts of the continent and warned of the strong environmental risk of human presence.

Medications such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and even substances like cocaine and caffeine, are already found in Antarctic waters, levels sometimes similar to those found in other more populated continents.

This conclusion is from a study that collected samples and analyzed the presence of illegal drugs and drugs in Antarctica, an area with several scientific bases and receiving a large influx of tourists. All these substances were detected in waters that were discharged into the ocean without suffering any kind of treatment or cleaning.

“Human presence is introducing unanalyzed contaminants so far that, due to their toxicity, persistence or bioaccumulation, could damage the Antarctic ecosystem”, said Yolanda Valcárcel, a researcher at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

Samples of water courses, lakes, glaciers and also untreated waste water from areas with a lot of tourism or the presence of scientific laboratories were analyzed. The researchers searched the waters for 25 drugs and 21 recreational substances or illegal drugs.

The drugs that most appeared in the analyzes were anti-inflammatories and analgesics, which represents a high environmental risk, as demonstrated in an article published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution.

The substances most commonly found in Antarctica were caffeine, and soon after, ephedrine, which has medicinal purposes. The main metabolite of cocaine was also found in one of the analyzed sites, relatively close to a military and scientific base in Argentina, located in Antarctica.

According to El Pais, the levels of these substances are similar to those found in some rivers in Spain, Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Yolanda Valcárcel also says that, for now, “drug concentrations are negligible and in no way, represent an environmental danger”. Still, in this study, it is advised to conduct “continuous monitoring because of the potential risks they pose to Antarctic aquatic ecosystems”.

This research also included researchers from the Geological and Mining Institute, the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, the National Water Institute of Argentina and the Rey Juan Carlos University.

Tourism in Antarctica has been growing steadily while the continent has between one and four thousand inhabitants, and in 2016 alone it received 37,400 visitors, most of them in the warmer months.