Study Buddy (Challenger): Sea of medicine flooding and polluting Hong Kong’s rivers

  • Study Buddy Challenger is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with more difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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Traces of antibiotics and painkillers were found in samples taken from Kai Tak River. Photo: May Tse

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] If a small, overcrowded place such as Hong Kong could maintain pristine waterways, it would be held up to the rest of the world as a model of sustainable urban living. Instead, it provides examples of the consequences of neglect.

[2] A study of 258 waterways in 104 countries confirms that, and it places Kai Tak River 29th and Tai Po’s Lam Tsuen River 70th among the most polluted waterways in the world in terms of concentration of medication. Kai Tak was found to be the most polluted in terms of the wide variety of pharmaceuticals.

[3] The study included Kai Tak River, which flows across East Kowloon and through a major urban centre into Victoria Harbour, because sewage treatment plants in Sha Tin and Tai Po discharge processed waste water into it. It included Lam Tsuen River because sewage converges in it from both rural and urban areas and flows into Tolo Harbour. Rivers are arteries of the natural environment, not dumping grounds for urban waste that degrades them. They can be rehabilitated and their ecosystems saved if society gives them a chance.

[4] City University Professor Kenneth Leung Mei-yee, who collaborated on the study led by Britain’s York University, said the findings reflected the city’s economic status, ageing population and number of residents. “The strain on the natural environment is huge,” he said. “It proves drug usage is ... common and sewage treatment capacity limited.”

[5] Samples from Kai Tak River yielded traces of antibiotics and painkillers, as well as medication for neuropathic pain, diabetes and stomach acid relief. Leung said pharmaceuticals would affect the waterway’s ecosystem. For example, one diabetic drug could turn male fish into females with eggs in their reproductive system.

[6] High concentrations of antibiotics in rivers can create conditions for bacteria to develop resistance, potentially a bigger threat to public health than pandemics. Leung urged enhancement of sewage treatment facilities. Ultimately, however, the most effective way to reduce such pollution is at the source. The government should seriously consider Leung’s suggestion of educating people to dispose of unwanted or expired medication responsibly, including at collection points at clinics, rather than flushing them down the toilet.
Source: South China Morning Post, February 22


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. Find a word or phrase in paragraph 1 that refers to “an unpolluted state”.

2. What did the study mentioned in paragraph 2 aim to find out?

3. Which river receives processed waste water from the sewage treatment plants in Sha Tin and Tai Po?

4. Based on your understanding of paragraph 5, give an example of how medicine in a city’s waterways might affect local fish stock.

5. According to paragraph 6, why is the presence of antibiotics in rivers a problem for humans?
A. because the bacteria in rivers may develop resistance to those antibiotics, making them less effective in treating infections in humans in the future
B. because the bacteria could potentially affect the immune system of patients who have recovered from Covid-19
C. because the bacteria might contaminate sewage treatment plants which would destroy aquatic ecosystems
D. all of the above

6. What does the phrase “the most effective way to reduce such pollution is at the source” in paragraph 6 imply?
A. The government is not doing enough to tackle waterway pollution.
B. Educating people about how to responsibly dispose of medication is the best way to address the issue.
C. Clinics should play a more active role in collecting expired medicine.
D. It is better to flush unwanted medication down the toilet than to toss them into drains.

7. Decide if the following statements are True, False or Not Given in the text. (4 marks)
(i) According to Leung, the city’s sewage treatment plants are not technologically advanced enough to remove pharmaceuticals from waste water.
(ii) Some treatments for diabetes have an adverse effect on non-aquatic wildlife.
(iii) Lam Tsuen River has a higher concentration of medication than Kai Tak River does.
(iv) According to Leung, pharmaceutical pollution in Hong Kong’s rivers is related to the city’s number of elderly residents.

8. Based on the text, complete the flow chart using your own words to show how medication pollutes the city’s waterways.

9. What is the purpose of this article?
A. to dissuade readers
B. to impress readers
C. to threaten readers
D. none of the above

To stop polluting our waterways with pharmaceuticals, people should dispose of expired medication responsibly


1. pristine
2. the concentration of medication in waterways around the world
3. Kai Tak River
4. A certain diabetic drug could reduce the number of local fish. Since it can turn male fish into females, there may not be enough males to reproduce.
5. A
6. B
7. (i) NG; (ii) NG; (iii) F; (iv) T
8. (i) They flush the medication down the toilet; (ii) The processed waste water containing traces of medicine is released into rivers.
9. D

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