Chemical Hazards Detected in More Than 1,600 River and Groundwater Locations Across England

Chemical pollution is making nature disappear faster. In the UK, the well-being of wildlife, like bugs, birds, otters, and dolphins, is getting hurt because of harmful chemicals. Toxic chemical mixtures have been discovered in more than 1,600 rivers and groundwater sites across the UK.

Chemical Hazards Detected in More Than 1,600 River and Groundwater Locations Across England

Some chemicals are safe, but others can be harmful to both wildlife and people. While some toxic chemicals are banned, many are still used despite knowing their harm. When these hazardous chemicals combine in the environment, they can cause more damage. Harmful chemical mixtures affecting wildlife are found in rivers and groundwater nationwide.

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Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a kind of chemicals called 'forever chemicals' because they don't break down easily in the environment. There are about 12,000 kinds of PFAS chemicals, often used to make things like water-resistant, grease-resistant, and stain-resistant products. Right now, the UK has only banned two PFAS chemicals out of thousands.

For instance, research discovered up to 12 harmful PFAS chemicals, known as forever chemicals, in UK otters. The risk of disease in harbor porpoises has increased by 41% because of chemical build-up. In Scotland, seal pups have a shorter life expectancy due to exposure to chemical pollutants.

Harmful chemical mixes, proven to hurt animals, were discovered in over 1,600 rivers, lakes, and groundwater spots across England. More than half of these places had three or more out of five harmful chemical mixes. River samples identified up to 101 chemicals, with the highest numbers found in spots along the rivers Mersey, Stour, Colne, Thames, Trent, Yare, Irwell, Medway, Humber, and Avon.

Harmful chemicals come from various sources:

  • Agriculture: Pesticides used on crops and livestock can contaminate soil, rivers, and oceans.
  • Medicines: Human and animal medicines enter rivers through wastewater as they aren't fully removed by sewage treatment.
  • Industrial processes: Chemicals from construction to factories can end up in our air and water.
  • Household goods: Items like cleaning products, cosmetics, plastics, and clothes often contain harmful chemicals. These can enter rivers through wastewater or end up in landfills when discarded.

What can you do?

1. Join and sign a letter with The Rivers Trust urging the Government to make a change. #ChemicalCocktail

2. Find out why choosing organic can help here : "Pesticide use in organic farming". Organic farming relies largely on preventative measures to control pests and disease, so pesticide use is significantly lower.⁠


1. Toxic chemical cocktails found at over 1,600 river and groundwater sites across England.

2. Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in otters across England and Wales – new research.

3. Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations and their effects in grey seals from the Isle of May.

4. Our rivers are the lifeblood of our natural world.

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