Drugs in the water

Dolphins on drugs:
[Via Discovery News: Deep Sea News]

by Peter Etnoyer


What do you think happens to all the caffeine, cumadin, and Xanax people take every morning? They go into wastewater. How about the expired and unused pills? They go down the drain, get flushed down the toilet. And where do they end up? In dolphins and fish in your bay.

New investigative research published in the Olympian estimates American hospitals and long-term care facilities flush 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging down the drain each year. This is corroborated by federal studies.

In 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found these pharmaceutical contaminants in 80 percent of the 139 streams sampled in 30 states. Mark Powell at Blogfish links to a couple interesting stories, including one with a solution called “Smart Disposal: a prescription for a healthy planet”.

“So what,” you say. “Will the fish easier to catch now that they’re stoned and hungry?”. Could be.

One lecture I heard last year by researchers out of Charleston, SC demonstrated that drugged fish show decreased reaction times to natural predators. This won’t make it easier for you to catch them. It will make it easier for their predators to catch them, so… none for you. To me, this story represents the intersection of science, health, and the environment. It’s an emerging issue.

We need to push for our community hospitals and long-term care facilities to limit and track pharmaceutical disposals. We don’t want our kids on drugs, much less swimming in them. Remember, wastewater is a municipal problem. The USGS can survey, and the EPA can regulate, but its up to the counties and the states to implement better practices. Make it an issue in your community.

The foundation I am on the board of (Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation) looked into this. There are some very strong laws to prevent the easy collection and disposal of pharmaceuticals. Not just at heathcare facilities but also from private homes. One of the groups we have worked with is the Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, which is trying to set up secured boxes at pharmacies for disposing of drugs safely.

The huge amount of pharmaceuticals that many animals may be exposed to is a very real concern. Our drug habit has the potential of relly disrupting ecosystems to a greater extent than CO2 production.

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One thought on “Drugs in the water

  1. Off the radar for most people – but it must be huge – especially all the hormone replacement and birth control pills that shift most species reproductive systems

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