How Do Trace Amounts of Pharmaceuticals in the Water Affect Our Bodies?
By: T. Adam Wichelmann
Have you ever thought of the consequences of drinking a "harmless" glass of water? Most Americans would answer a strong "no". After all, it's only water; how harmful could it really be? According to recent studies, there might be reason to question water's seemingly harmless nature. Scientists have found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in at least 41 million Americans water! As prescription drugs pass through the body, they are excreted in urine and solid waste, which subsequently finds its way into Americas water. The article explains how scientists in the 1970's hinted at a potentially negative impact of pharmaceuticals, but water and waste treatment plants were never designed to remove them. An expert on emerging contaminants at the USGS even states that the technology to analyze for the compounds in prescription drugs has been available since we've been using pharmaceutical products. It wasn't until 2002 that the first large scale survey was conducted by the USGS!
From further research I found that anti-biotics became popularized and used widespread in the 1930's. With over 70 years of pharmaceuticals contaminating our waters what kind of impact are we looking at? The USGS currently has identified the presences of over 80 compounds in American waterways. Recent USGS studies have showed only trace amounts of drugs allowing them to argue that only long term effects can be felt. The article, on the other hand, hints at three possible negative effects. First, "some contaminants may become more concentrated as they move up the food chain". They could build concentration and have a strong effect over a lifetime. Second, the effects of mixing these drugs could be harmful. Lastly, as antibiotics enter the waterways, bacteria could become increasingly more resistant. This is especially scary considering we've been using antibiotics since the 1930's.
As our class has been discussing, the potential effects of technology is now felt strongly in every aspect of our daily lives, not even a glass of water is safe. Reading this article, I am reminded of how little we know about the consequences of new technology. Companies, meeting the societies need for technological fixes, puts countless items on the market without studying their potentially harmful effects on the environment and mankind. If Global warming isn't enough, I think pharmaceutical drugs in the waterways should be enough to spur more Green Chemistry initiatives. I think it's incredibly important that we look into the long term affects of our decisions and research new green technologies.