Potential role of veterinary flea products in widespread pesticide contamination of English rivers

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Feb 10;755(Pt 1):143560. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143560. Epub 2020 Nov 7.


Little is known about the environmental fate or impact of pesticides used to control companion animal parasites. Using data from the Environment Agency, we examined the occurrence of fipronil, fipronil metabolites and imidacloprid in 20 English rivers from 2016 to 2018, as indicators of the potential contamination of waterways from their use as ectoparasiticides on pets. Water samples were collected by the Environment Agency as part of their chemical surveillance programme and analysed using Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry / Quadrupole-Time-of-Flight Mass spectrometry (LC/Q-TOF-MS) methods. A total of 3861 chemical analyses were examined, and the significance and potential sources of this contamination were assessed. Fipronil, fipronil sulfone, fipronil sulfide (collectively known as fiproles) and imidacloprid were detected in 98.6%, 96.5%, 68.7% and 65.9% of samples, respectively. Across the river sites sampled, the mean concentrations of fipronil (17 ng/l, range <0.3-980 ng/l), and fipronil sulfone (6.5 ng/l, range <0.2-39 ng/l) were 5.3 and 38.1 times their chronic toxicity limits of 3.2 and 0.17 ng/l, respectively. Imidacloprid had a mean concentration of 31.7 ng/l (range <1-360 ng/l), which was below its chronic toxicity limit of 35 ng/l, however seven out of 20 sites exceeded that limit. Chronic risk quotients indicate a high environmental risk to aquatic ecosystems from fiproles, and a moderate risk from imidacloprid. Sites immediately downstream of wastewater treatment works had the highest levels of fipronil and imidacloprid, supporting the hypothesis that potentially significant quantities of pesticides from veterinary flea products may be entering waterways via household drains. These findings suggest the need for a reevaluation of the environmental risks associated with the use of companion animal parasiticide products, and the risk assessments that these products undergo prior to regulatory approval.

Keywords: Fipronil; Freshwater ecotoxicology; Imidacloprid; Pet flea products; Wastewater pollution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Insecticides* / analysis
  • Pesticides* / analysis
  • Siphonaptera*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Insecticides
  • Pesticides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical