• Project No 4972
  • Project Name Bioaccumulation and magnification of pharmaceuticals within Australian waterways and terminal lake systems
  • Lead Organisation Barwon Water
  • Research Lead Federation University
  • Main Researcher Samantha Harriage
  • Completion Year 2026

Project Description

Research into Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) forms the basis of ensuring ecosystem health for the enjoyment of future generations. Prominent CECs include microplastics, pharmaceuticals and personal care products. CECs are often released into the environment by vectors such as wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) or are the direct products of industry and agricultural waste. Pharmaceuticals are generally present in natural waterways at low concentrations (ng/L), well below what is considered toxic, but nevertheless they have the potential to influence aquatic organisms and to bioaccumulate through trophic transfer. Pharmaceuticals of particular interest include the anti-convulsant carbamazepine, and anti-depressants such as venlafaxine and fluoxetine.

This project focuses on the potential transfer of CECs within Australian native ecosystems and will evaluate the extent of trophic transfer through natural food webs as well as providing short-term monitoring data to assess the movement and stability of pharmaceuticals, with a focus on common prescription pharmaceuticals.

Over 12-months in two regions of Victoria (Colac and Sunbury), periodic sampling of surface water and native flora will evaluate any seasonal changes to pharmaceutical concentration in both surface water and flora. Flora, invertebrates, and fish species will be collected to ascertain the spread of pharmaceuticals through trophic transfer through food webs. This project will also investigate the potential for the transfer of pharmaceuticals from aquatic to terrestrial environments via flora uptake.

This project aims to provide essential seasonal monitoring data of surface water concentrations, which will aid in informing stakeholders in the creation of new regulations to protect ecosystem health. Exploring the uptake of pharmaceuticals within native flora species may provide a cost-effective avenue of removing pharmaceutical removal from waterways.

PhD Thesis underway by Samantha Harriage.