(NaturalNews) Over the last decade, larger amounts of pharmaceutical drugs have been detected in the public's water supply; although the concentrations are low, the long-term effects are unknown.
Pharmaceuticals are entering the water system primarily through disposal via flushing, or people's urine. The body breaks down medications, passing the drug's remnants when a person uses the restroom. Livestock farms can also be responsible for polluting the water when antibiotic-treated animals discharge waste that drains into the water supply, reports The Columbus Dispatch.
Hospitals are extremely guilty of disposing pills via the flushing method. In fact, flushing drugs down either the sink or toilet is one of the recommended methods of disposal under federal law.
Hospitals instructed to flush drugs
Federally mandated, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) allows unused drugs to be disposed of by returning them to their manufacturer, destroyed in accordance with state guidance (e.g., incineration or flushing down the drain), or be transferred to a reverse distributor, a private company that handles expired medications for pharmacies and manufacturers.
Some drugs, such as endocrine disruptors, are required to be disposed of in a biohazard box due to their potential environmental effects. However, healthcare workers frequently flush "high-risk" drugs that are often abused like oxycodone, Percocet and morphine.
Water treatment plants rarely filter or screen for the presence of these drugs, but several studies have detected a vast range of meds in public water systems, including antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones, painkillers and high blood pressure medicine, among many others.
Most wastewater treatment plants lack the standardized sampling and analysis protocols required to measure a diverse range of pharmaceuticals in the water, and implementing them would be costly.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study in 2008 that examined samples from 50 large-size wastewater treatment plants nationwide and tested for 56 different drugs, including oxycodone, high blood pressure meds, and over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen, as reported by New Republic.
The results showed that half of the samples tested positive for at least 25 of the drugs researchers screened for, with high blood pressure meds appearing the most.
Health officials assure that the drugs exist only in low doses and are not harmful to humans; however, the long-term effects of consuming varying amounts of random medications together are unknown.
At least 41 million Americans have pharmaceuticals in their drinking water
A 2008 investigation by The Associated Press (AP) measured the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking supplies from 24 major metropolitan areas ranging from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Kentucky, over a five-month period.
They also interviewed hundreds of officials and scientists, and surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities, including a few small community suppliers. Some of the water companies they queried were hesitant to provide results, claiming the public wouldn't know how to interpret them and could be unnecessarily alarmed.
Below are few of AP's results:
Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.
Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.
The vast array of pharmaceuticals in drinking water affects at least 41 million Americans. Among the cities surveyed, only Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Virginia, tested negative for drugs.
Only through public outreach and awareness can the public begin to solve the problem of water pollution via prescription drugs. In time, technological advancements will accompany awareness, making it possible to remove these new contaminants from our water.