Monday, March 10, 2008

Drugs in our Water

Drugs have been found in the drinking water of America's cities. 24, of the 28 major metropolitan cities that were tested, were found to contain caffeine and trace elements of various human and animal pharmaceuticals. In the Washington DC area, anti-depressants, pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, antibiotics, and anti-psychotics were found in the water. Other cities water supplies were found to contain synthetic hormones, heart medications, and tranquilizers.

Some scientists are saying there is little health risk. They are only trace amounts, after all. The trouble is that we are in completely new waters here (pardon the pun). There are no long term studies on these kinds of dosages and their effects.

We can't blame “big pharma” on this, either. At least we can't blame them for dumping the drugs, which was my first thought. Drugs have a shelf life and it wouldn't have surprised me if a lot of them were simply being dumped into our oceans and other water supply systems like other pollutants are. Instead, their presence in our drinking water has to do with the drug's bio-availability.

Bio-availability is a measure of how much of the drug is actually absorbed into your body when you take it, and how much just passes through. It turns out that these drugs are coming from the very people who take them. The portions that pass through are, well, passing through the urinary and digestive tracts and into our sewage systems. When that water is treated for bacteria and waste contaminants, and returned to the drinking water systems, the remaining drug is coming along for the ride.

I don't think we need to panic. I do think we need to take our environment more seriously. This may not be an imminent species-wide threat but, it is a threat, nonetheless. Modern medicines have done amazing things. They've also done some very terrible things. This seems to me like one more example in the ongoing battle human beings have with the “law of unintended consequences.” It's one more reminder of how we are hurting our environment, and ourselves, in the name of a quick solution to our problems.

Save the humans.

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