Rivers Trust research highlights the chemical cocktails polluting our rivers

Research by The Rivers Trust and Wildlife and Countryside Link has revealed that toxic chemical mixtures were found at more than 1,600 river and groundwater sites in England. We have now launched a Chemical Cocktail campaign to demand urgent action on this critical issue.

Matthew Woodard



Our new campaign webpage explains why chemical pollution is such a serious problem, with an interactive map showing the chemicals that were found at each monitoring site and a chance for the public to add their name to our joint letter to government demanding change.

What is the problem?

Chemicals can be emitted into the environment at any stage of their life cycle, from production through use, to disposal, and some have severe impacts on aquatic life. Moreover, multiple chemicals can be found in the same location within our rivers, and these chemical cocktails can compound the effects on the freshwater ecosystem. Chemical pollution of freshwaters also raises implications for human health through the consumption of freshwater fish and direct contact via recreational use, including bathing.

Carrying out new analysis of official Environment Agency data, we looked at the prevalence of five chemical cocktails which are known to have negative impacts on wildlife, and found that:

  • Chemical cocktails, that have been proven harmful to wildlife in scientific studies, have been found in 814 river and lake sites (out of 1,006 sites with data - 81% ) and 805 groundwater sites (out of 1,086 sites with data - 74%) across England 
  • Over half (54%) of these sites contained 3 or more of the 5 harmful chemical cocktails investigated
  • Up to 101 chemicals were identified in river samples, with sites along the rivers Mersey, Stour, Colne, Thames, Trent, Yare, Irwell, Medway, Humber and Avon among those containing the highest numbers of chemicals. The actual numbers of chemical pollutants will be even higher

As well as highlighting the huge scale of our chemical pollution problem, this research has called attention to the lack of official monitoring for known harmful chemical cocktails, as well as the lack of a regulatory framework to address these mixtures.

What needs to change?

It’s easy to think that the Government would have strict rules to stop dangerous chemicals polluting our rivers and seas and to prevent harm to people and wildlife. But the rules we have simply aren’t tough enough and nature is paying the price.

We're calling for: 

  • Strict controls on groups of harmful chemicals and dangerous chemical cocktails. 
  • Phasing out of known toxic chemicals (such as PFAS) from all but vital uses. 
  • Better monitoring of chemical pollutants in the environment.

Find out more and take action

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