Excuse me, my fellow American, but your drugs are in my tap water. And my drugs are in yours. The New Republic published an in-depth story today detailing the findings of major upcoming study: There are more pharmaceuticals in American tap water than drug companies thought possible. The estimates drug makers are required to make about their products’ environmental impact have been off the mark, at least in some cases, apparently.
Researchers have been looking at the issue for about 10 years. It’s not news that the drugs flushed down people’s toilets have an impact on aquatic life. For example, trace amounts of hormonal drugs mess with frog and fish reproduction, and even gender characteristics. But this study, conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and slated for January release in the journal Environmental Pollution, paints a clearer picture.
The study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, shows surprisingly high levels of a surprisingly wide range of drugs. It tested water from 50 large waste-water treatment plants for 56 prescription and over-the-counter drugs. It found at least 25 drugs in more than half of the samples. The leading drug class? Blood pressure medications.
Unfortunately, key questions about the situation remain unanswered so far, as the New Republic article indicates. Namely, what are the drugs doing to human health and ecosystems? What further testing and new regulatory conditions need to be put in place, and by whom? Is it feasible to remove the drugs? It’s all very murky, but the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration are working on additional studies.
Image: PD-US (public domain).