Traces of Pharmaceuticals in Our Water
How much do you think about the stuff that goes down your drains? Would you ever consider a medicine you take potentially harmful to someone 100 miles downriver? A recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study analyzed fish tissue from five major U.S. wastewater treatment plants. The fact that researchers discovered pharmaceutical residue in the tissue has encouraged the EPA to expand water research all over the country. In testing the fish for 24 pharmaceuticals and 12 chemicals often found in personal products, the scientists found seven drugs and two personal product chemicals in each of the five locations. A control sample taken from New Mexico's Gila River Wilderness Area, which is free of human pollution, displayed none of the chemical traces.
The residue in the fish contained traces of drugs used to treat allergies, high blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol, and more. Other studies have found evidence of antibiotics, birth control, cancer treatment, and tranquilizers in various water supplies. These elements come from homes, industries, and farms, from both excess supplies that have been thrown out or washed away, and human and animal waste. Traces of the drugs do not necessarily get removed at sewage treatment plants, and runoff from garbage gets into the groundwater. In this way, the drugs can eventually reappear in our drinking water. At this point, the small amount of pharmaceuticals that might be in your water is probably not going to hurt you. However, there is a debate in the scientific community about the actual effects of such trace concentrations in the water supply. Some say that the miniscule amount of drug material in the water is harmless, and won't hurt humans. Others argue that the long-term effects are unknown, and that we should be wary, as the concentration may increase. The more immediate concern is what is happening to the life underwater. There is a suggested link between anti-depressant contaminated water and altered sperm count and mating habits in marine life. Additionally, fish in both Britain and the U.S. are exhibiting deformed reproductive systems, which may be due to heightened levels of estrogen from women's hormone therapy drugs. Because the long-term effects of introducing pharmaceuticals into the environment are truly unknown, we should all pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies and down our drains. No matter how detached from nature we may feel, the systems of our bodies and cities continue to mingle with those of the earth.