Drugs Are Accumulating in Sewage Sludge,
Surface Waters, and Drinking Water

Factory Farm & Medical Drugs End Up in Sewage Sludge, Surface Waters, &
Drinking Water

Source: http://www.healthmall.com/newsletter.cfm?type=article&id=944&a

Study says Prescription Meds Polluting Waters

Findings presented at the first major American symposium on pharmaceuticals
in water, held as part of the American Chemical Society's spring national
meeting in San Francisco last week, said that water pollution by drugs "is
a newly emerging issue," according to Christian G. Daughton, a symposium
co-organizer and chief of environmental chemistry at the Environmental
Protection Agency's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas.

EPA scientists examining the sludge from a U.S. sewage-treatment plant
20 years ago found that the incoming sewage contained excreted aspirin,
caffeine, and nicotine. At about the same time, the cholesterol-lowering drug
clofibric acid turned up in a groundwater reservoir being used by the
Phoenix, AZ area. The drug had entered with treated sewage, which the city
had been using to replenish the aquifer. Experts at that time didn't pay
attention to the finding. It should have been a wake-up call, experts now
argue, because if clofibric acid could pass through a sewage-treatment
plant and percolate through soil unscathed, so could a host of other drugs.

Now new studies by Chris Metcalfe of Trent University in Peterborough,
Ontario, reports finding a broad mix of drugs, including anticancer agents,
psychiatric drugs, and anti-inflammatory compounds. "Levels of prescription
drugs that we have leaving sewage-treatment plants in Canada are sometimes
higher than what's being seen in Germany," he says.

He explains that many North American cities employ more rudimentary sewage
treatment than those in Germany. Daughton observes also that some 1 million
U.S. homes send their essentially untreated sewage directly into the

Two years ago, the symposium's other co-organizer, Thomas A. Ternes,
documented unexpectedly high concentrations of drugs "many measured in
parts per billion (ppb)" both in raw sewage and in water leaving treatment
plants in Germany. The chemist, who is at the Institute for Water Research
and Water Technology in Wiesbaden, Germany, now finds that these drugs
enter groundwater.

Sewage effluent can amount to at least half the water in many of Germany's
smaller rivers, he notes. Groundwater fed by streams carrying relatively
undiluted effluent can be tainted with 1 ppb carbamazepine, an
anticonvulsive drug. Ternes has also detected similar amounts of the
anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac and up to 2.4 ppb of iodine-based drugs
used to improve contrast in X rays.

Because people discard their excess drugs, the town dump can also be a
source of pharmaceutical pollution. Under one landfill, Ternes found
groundwater tainted with 12 ppb clofibric acid and 1 ppb phenazone, an

The latter medication also turned up in groundwater "but at far higher
concentrations" under a leaking dump in Zagreb, Croatia, notes Marijan Ahel
of the Rudjer Boskovic Institute in Zagreb. Some of his water samples had
the drug at as much as 50 times the concentration detected by Ternes.
In the United States, federal scientists recently began probing another
source of drug pollution's large feedlots for livestock. An estimated 40
percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States is fed to
livestock as growth enhancers. Geochemist Mike Meyer of the U.S. Geological
Survey in Raleigh, N.C., and his colleagues have begun looking for
antibiotics in hog-waste lagoons.

Three drugs frequently show up, one in concentrations approaching 1 part
per million. The same three antibiotics, which are also prescribed for
people, often appear in local waters, though usually only at one-tenth to
one-hundredth the concentrations in the lagoons, Meyer notes. "So, it
appears we're getting transport of these antibiotics into surface and
groundwater's," he told Science News.

His colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta
have begun sampling bacteria from the tainted waters to investigate their
responses to the antibiotics present, Meyer says. Their findings could
begin to resolve a long-standing question: What is the contribution, if
any, of livestock to potentially dangerous reservoirs of bacteria resistant
to common antibiotics?

Traces of drugs are sometimes making it all the way into tap water. Thomas
Heberer of the Technical University of Berlin reported finding traces of at
least three pharmaceuticals in samples from his home tap. The
concentrations, however, were near the limits of detection, a few parts per
trillion. Moreover, he found that running this water through an
activated-carbon filter removes all vestiges of the drugs.

Ternes' studies confirm that two disinfection agents "activated carbon and
ozone'" which are used in many European drinking-water plants, generally
remove any traces of drugs. It's because these relatively costly
technologies aren't employed for treating sewage, he notes, that a large
share of the drugs flushed down toilets can reach open waters.

To date, the symposium's scientists noted, few if any toxicological studies
have evaluated risks posed by chronic exposure to trace concentrations of
drugs. Most of the participants suspect, however, that the biggest risks
face aquatic life, which may be bathed from cradle to grave in a solution
of drugs of increasing concentration and potency.

David Epel of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific
Grove, Calif., expressed special concern about new drugs called efflux-pump
inhibitors. Designed to keep microbes from ejecting the antibiotics
intended to slay them efflux-pump inhibitors also impede the cellular pumps
that nearly all animals use to get rid of toxicants, he says. If
pump-inhibiting drugs enter the aquatic environment, Epel worries that they
might render wildlife vulnerable to concentrations of pollution that had
previously been innocuous.

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