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August 8, 2004 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Prozac Found in Britain's Drinking Water. Norman Baker, environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said it looked "like a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting public." Or possibly something less alarming, like the recycled leftovers from the public waste... either way, very disturbing.
posted by Espoo2 (54 comments total)

 
I read about this earlier today, and can't believe there's that much prozac being peed out to reach a noticeable level. What's the story?
posted by amberglow at 7:25 PM on August 8, 2004


I guess that explains why I'm not angry about this.
posted by armoured-ant at 7:30 PM on August 8, 2004


Who cares? I've been drinking local water all my life, and I'm not at all worried about this...
posted by dash_slot- at 7:31 PM on August 8, 2004


It isn't just Prozac, and it isn't just in Britain.
posted by emyd at 7:32 PM on August 8, 2004


If this isn't tin-hat/Alex Jones fodder, I don't know what is...

"Don't mind the wars, dirty politicians, taxes, and environmental destruction, just be HAPPY! Oh, and don't make so many babies."
posted by Espoo2 at 7:34 PM on August 8, 2004


See also: Texas.
posted by homunculus at 7:34 PM on August 8, 2004


Guess where all those radioactive medicines used during medical procedures end up. Sure, the radioactive half-lives are short, but we are still talking about cesium, cobalt and other fun things. If a relatively large molecule like prozac gets through the purification process untouched, imagine how many simple ions pass as well.
posted by mischief at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2004


Your Body, Your Superfund Site
posted by homunculus at 7:48 PM on August 8, 2004


And Bush is the fearmonger?
posted by techgnollogic at 7:56 PM on August 8, 2004


It's classic misdirection, techg. The terrible terrorists haven't blown up a beachball in the U.S. since 9/11/01 while we're too distracted to notice the body parts that fall off after 30 days on the McDonalds Diet (sure, the so-called debunkers of "Supersize Me" said they lost weight, they just didn't say HOW).
posted by wendell at 8:10 PM on August 8, 2004


And Bush is the fearmonger?

no, he's just a roaming rabid dog.
posted by quonsar at 8:50 PM on August 8, 2004


This has absolutely no meaning without a sufficient context. How many ppm? How does this compare to small-but-detectable amounts of other substances found in drinking water? This is almost certainly an extremely small amount of fluoxetine—what do the human studies show about the effect, if any, of such small dosages? What are the environmental toxicology studies, if any, of fluoxetine?

The simple detectable presence of any substance in drinking water is not itself nessarily important. The answers to the above questions, however, would make clear whether this is absolutely unimportant or if it is an emergency, or something in between.

Personally, I can't imagine how this can be an issue of public health given that so many people are taking Prozac anyway and the dosages from this source are necessarily tiny. If there's a problem with many people getting this tiny amount of Prozac, then we've got much bigger problems with the bazillions of people who are taking it medically. On the other hand, this very well could be a big ecological problem for certain vulnerable organisms.

But then, I'm sure that in comparison to the problems caused by all the other man-made contaminants in the ground water, it's of minor ecological importance.

In other words, it's difficult to see how this isn't anything other than an alarmist story playing to people's fears and uneasiness about the ubiquitous use of antidepressents.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:54 PM on August 8, 2004


Does the theory that traces of the pill in drinking water are responsible for the falling sperm rates still have credence? It hadn't been disproved last I heard.

Which means we'll be chilled about being infertile, chaps.
posted by bonaldi at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2004


At least it wasn't Viagra.
The thought of seeing a whole countrys male population walking around tented, makes me shudder.

And the loss of productivity would be devastating to the economy.
posted by Trik at 9:02 PM on August 8, 2004


I used to be involved with an Engineer who was part of the local water board.

One day I asked: Why the bottled distilled water? The answer was, in part, that *IF* there was civil disorder, the local goverment was going to put lithium in the water. These days, I bet what can be added to the water would be FAR more effective.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:17 PM on August 8, 2004


Here in Washington, DC we've apparently been drinking lead in our water for years. But a little Prozac and you guys are all "ooooh, we're afraid of having prescription drugs in our drinking supply!" Pansies.
posted by onlyconnect at 9:28 PM on August 8, 2004


Mandrake, have you ever wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rain water, and only pure grain alcohol?
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:34 PM on August 8, 2004


I do believe the problem with this would be primarily that the instruments we use to measure contaminants are so precise that they can find trace quantities of anything in any given sample of water. Seriously, there's most likely arsenic and lead and a whole bunch of other shit in your water, even if it's distilled - just so little of it that it doesn't matter. That's why there are threshold limits detailing the maximum amount of any toxin present - past a certain level there's no point in even bothering trying to purify the water because there's no practical benefit.

And as psychoactive drugs go, Prozac is extremely mild, and takes weeks to build up in the body to the point where effects are even noticeable - that's assuming you're actually taking 100 mg of the shit every single day. I wouldn't worry.
posted by Veritron at 9:55 PM on August 8, 2004


If there's a problem with many people getting this tiny amount of Prozac, then we've got much bigger problems with the bazillions of people who are taking it medically.

This sort of thinking is careless. Yeah, traces of Prozac probably aren't dangerous, but just because lots of adults take some drug every day doesn't mean that traces aren't harmful to small children, fetuses, people with certain conditions, etc.
posted by tss at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2004


Veritron: That would be true if we knew how much was found. That hasn't been said.

And even if there were only small amounts, do you really want to be taking tiny little samples of everyone's prescription drugs? What are the effects of all them together? Do you know?

I certainly don't.

I think the point is not that the effects OF PROZAC in that amount would be dangerous, but that WHAT THE HELL IS IT DOING IN OUR DRINKING WATER IN THE FIRST PLACE and what else is there? And if and how it is effecting the biosystem connected to the river system that they found the prozac in.
posted by Espoo2 at 11:05 PM on August 8, 2004


Christ before getting worked up about that let's take care of the mercury and lead and other nasties that are all over the place and most definitely harmful first...
posted by Space Coyote at 11:14 PM on August 8, 2004


If you drink it diluted every day for 30 years what will happen? No one knows and anyone who says they think it's harmless is living in lala land. It's a grand experiment.

Meanwhile health care costs are threatening to collapse entire economies. Why is everyone so sick?
posted by stbalbach at 11:27 PM on August 8, 2004


props to .kobayashi.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:02 AM on August 9, 2004


Reading about this made me feel really sad, but one big glass of tap water later and I feel all good about the world again. Where's the bad..? ;)
posted by DrDoberman at 3:53 AM on August 9, 2004


This has absolutely no meaning without a sufficient context.

Quite. The original Observer piece is very short on information.

"The Environment Agency has revealed that Prozac is building up both in river systems and groundwater used for drinking supplies ... A recent report by the Environment Agency concluded Prozac could be potentially toxic in the water table and said the drug was a 'potential concern' ... However, the precise quantity of Prozac in the nation's water supplies remains unknown".

It suggests that the EA haven't actually measured the levels, and that this is a hyped-up account of a discussion paper.
posted by raygirvan at 3:59 AM on August 9, 2004


Maybe—maybe—this is bad. But, as other have said above, we know there's a whole bunch of things that are worse that are in our tapwater and ecosystems.

The thing that really bothers me is that people a) are really bad at cost/benefit and risk analysis; and, b) reluctant to even do them and, instead, imagine that zero-risk or something like it is possible. So they freak out over everything that comes along because it might be bad and, gosh, why take the risk?

Well, because we don't have infinite resources. Every dollar, every hour of manpower, spent on identifying, evaluating, and eliminating the supposed threat of fluoxetine in drinking water is a dollar and hour not spent elsewhere.

Now, do you want to be the person responsible for that dollar or hour not spent on eliminating, say, lead from the tapwater of a specific young child that costs her twenty IQ points because, instead, you agitated that that dollar and hour be spent eliminating a trace amount of fluoxetine that no study has shown to be harmful to any humans in that dosage...because you don't like the general idea of antidepressents and such?

Show me a good reason for this to be a serious public health concern, and I'll support efforts to rectify it. Merely saying that it might be, and we don't know so we should avoid it isn't good enough. Because there's only so much that can be done. Everything done represents a whole bunch of other things that weren't. Choose carefully.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:07 AM on August 9, 2004


armoured-ant was funny.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:10 AM on August 9, 2004


the so-called debunkers of "Supersize Me" said they lost weight, they just didn't say HOW

Are you familiar with the term "slider"?
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 AM on August 9, 2004


Yawn. No data to see here; just move along, folks.

How many parts per billion does it take to affect people's serotonin reuptake, let alone their reproductive capacity?
posted by alumshubby at 6:07 AM on August 9, 2004


Meanwhile health care costs are threatening to collapse entire economies. Why is everyone so sick?

Because we're living so damn long these days. It was easy to keep health care costs down a couple of centuries ago when everyone was dying at 35.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:07 AM on August 9, 2004


As usual EB nails the substance of this.

For our American friends let me explain why this is ‘news.’ Every summer Parliament goes on holiday for a couple of months (prorogued for the technically minded.) In the absence of Government doing things to talk about the media has a short summer ‘silly season’ wherein issues of no substance are conflated to the dubious status of news…

Does the theory that traces of the pill in drinking water are responsible for the falling sperm rates still have credence? It hadn't been disproved last I heard.


Funny Bonaldi I was wondering about this the other day as well. The guy who I share a house with is a medic, he tells me that this is just a theory at this stage. Still, I don't like the idea of it one little bit.

>> If there's a problem with many people getting this tiny
>> amount of Prozac, then we've got much bigger problems
>> with the bazillions of people who are taking it medically.

> This sort of thinking is careless. Yeah, traces of Prozac
> probably aren't dangerous, but just because lots of
> adults take some drug every day doesn't mean that
> traces aren't harmful to small children, fetuses, people
> with certain conditions, etc.


Er tss, EB is right. Wholesale over-prescription of anti-depressants is a big problem here in the UK. Driven by time pressures general practionioners are handing out happy pills left right and centre in lieu of actually working out what's the matter with people...
posted by dmt at 6:21 AM on August 9, 2004


Christ before getting worked up about that let's take care of the mercury and lead and other nasties that are all over the place and most definitely harmful first...

Isn't it basically the same problem? Ensuring a non polluted water supply? Or are the techniques used to filter the different "nasties" completely different?


It was easy to keep health care costs down a couple of centuries ago when everyone was dying at 35.


I wonder if you are aware of how silly this statement is.
posted by sic at 6:33 AM on August 9, 2004


sic, what I meant was that, as people get older, it costs more to keep them alive. These days, medical science goes to extreme (and extremely expensive) measures to keep people alive, even at the end of what should be the end of their natural lifespans. Back in the day, these measures were not taken. Thus, health care costs were not as high, but people died younger. Didn't mean to infer that society was better off with lower health care costs and shorter life-spans.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:44 AM on August 9, 2004


a couple of centuries ago when everyone was dying at 35.

That is a myth. The child mortality rates brought the average lifespan down. But if you made it past 10 or so, chances are you would live to an old age.. 70s and 80s. Some of the oldest people in the world live lifestyles that have not changed in thousands of years. If modern industrial life is so healthy, how come the record setters are all from the French countryside or from the Caucus Mountains or some remote Japanese island, how come we don't see people in NY or Paris or London routinely pushing the record ages higher and higher.
posted by stbalbach at 7:09 AM on August 9, 2004


To what do you refer when you say "back in the day"? Before the creation of the Welfare State and nationalized healthcare? Or at its inception? Keep in mind that "healthcare costs" didn't exist, as a government problem before well into the 20th century. By then, people were already living much longer than 35 years (they were leading longer lives even a "few centuries ago" as you put it-- at least in the West). You also have to keep in mind that there are many modern diseases that are putting stress on national healthcare systems (Tobacco related illnesses, AIDS, just to name a few) that weren't an issue at the birth of national healthcare. The point that the other poster was making is that we are getting sicker, most likely for environmental reasons, not because we are living longer. This is a problem. And while it's true that medical science is advancing, and some of the techniques employed to combat modern health problems are extremely expensive, the issue should be the root of these new illnesses not just the cost of treating them...
posted by sic at 7:13 AM on August 9, 2004


In the absence of definitive environmental or human health effects data resulting from actual exposure to trace environmental levels of drugs (which, after all, are far below therapeutic dosages) why should we be concerned about this issue?

The whole faq is pretty interesting actually. Some of these pharmaceuticals are being found in a range of 100's of ppb (parts per billion) to sub-ppt (sub-parts per trillion).
posted by Orb at 7:17 AM on August 9, 2004


Are we getting sicker? Or are we better at diagnosing (and therefore documenting) minor illnesses that would have gone unnoticed and untreated before medical science advanced to its current state? I ask in all honesty, because I don't know...do modern diseases cancel out those we've largely eradicated (like polio)? People of my grandparents' generation suffered from a lot of ailments we don't even have to think about. And (for example) my grandmother was clinically depressed for decades before that was thought of as an illness that required treatment.

I was under the understanding that lifespan rates in North America were under 50 as late as the turn of the last century, but if it was high child mortality rates bringing that down, that's quite interesting and food for thought.

Interesting post, at any rate.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:30 AM on August 9, 2004


I've often suspected that perhaps what has really changed is our capacity of knowing all of our problems. What I mean is that everything gets reported instantly, disasters, wars, famines, new sicknesses, etc. that perhaps, as you suggest, simply were not reported before the invention of big, global media.

But this is seems to be a real problem, look at the links provided by emyd. It's what my wife just told me, if there is Prozac in the drinking water, imagine the amount of other, more common drugs are in there. Antibiotics, anyone?
posted by sic at 7:45 AM on August 9, 2004


EB:people a) are really bad at cost/benefit and risk analysis; and, b) reluctant to even do them and, instead, imagine that zero-risk or something like it is possible.

Spot on. I think this is one of society's biggest problems and your comment will become my new way of succinctly expressing this.
posted by loquax at 7:56 AM on August 9, 2004


See also: Texas.

Well, at least all those floating corpses will have goofy grins. Seriously, boating on Lake Lewisville is like playing Russian Roulette.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:16 AM on August 9, 2004


"God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural... fluids. "
"Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream. "
posted by leapfrog at 8:37 AM on August 9, 2004


Chunks or swirls?
posted by biffa at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2004


EB and dmt have hit it right on as far as I can see - as someone who suffered from bouts of depression for nearly 20 years I can assure you that the first thing a GP will recommend is some pills to get your butt out of their office before you ruin their day. Nowadays I am content to ignore their advice and find my happy moments in the little things I do for others. Over-reliance on prescription drugs is causing major issues. We haven't quite reached Philip K Dick's dial-a-mood technology yet but the desire to get there will cause harm to normal human relationships.
Oh, and just as a brief query - why the hell do they give out pills that say "don't take 'em all at once or you may die!" to depressed people? I am aware of at least 4-5 of my friends who have attempted overdoses with their prescriptions. Surely a recommendation of counseling would serve the needs of the depressed better?
posted by longbaugh at 8:54 AM on August 9, 2004


dmt: I acknowledge that Prozac is probably not a problem. The point I'm making is more general. Especially when you're calling for Careful Analysis (which I support!), it's careless to assume that a substance that's fine in large doses for adults is safe for everyone. Your analysis must determine the effects of the substance on a wide variety of people. C.f. Thalidomide.

For this reason, "lots of folks take it so it must be OK" is dangerous thinking, even though in Prozac's case it may be right.
posted by tss at 9:24 AM on August 9, 2004


Since some bottled water comes from municipal water supplies (in one case Queens, NY) it may not be safe either. Glacier run off or ancient fossil water would be the best. Certainly better than acid rain water (unless cut with grain alcohol).
posted by stbalbach at 9:59 AM on August 9, 2004


Reading the comments - major cities' sewers supply their drinking water? How long does it take pollution to make it through the ground polluting the water table? Thought the ground would filter it.

This article reads like it was written by "chicken little".
posted by thomcatspike at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2004


I get your point, tss, but you can't really seriously be comparing the pre-release trials of thalidomide to the current, wide-scale everyone-I-know-including-children ubiquity of Prozac? Pregnant women take it. Every kind of person there is takes it, basically. Drinking water contamination isn't going to put fluoxetine into a heretofore unaffected population (in demographic terms).

It might have unexpected effects somewhere, somehow in an ecology. That's a different matter. But I don't think that in this case it's a public health threat relative to whatever threat Prozac is already causing.

Which, by the way, I'm not sure how several people got the idea that I have something against antidepressants, 'cause I don't. I'm not comfortable with it being carelessly and ignorantly prescribed, and I'm not certain that there aren't unknown long-term health implications, either. But I do know that everything we know at this point is that it's saving many lives and dramatically improving the quality of many, many more. The benefit from them is huge.

I'm not a environmentalist, watershed, water quality, public-health maven by any stretch of the imagination. But off the top of my head I can think of at least five groundwater contaminants that are toxic and common in significant concentrations in many industrialized countries. Let's worry about those first.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:31 AM on August 9, 2004




Prozac in the water? What, has there been a British uptrend in cuddling and downtrend in premature ejaculation?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:11 AM on August 9, 2004


I get your point, tss, but you can't really seriously be comparing the pre-release trials of thalidomide to the current, wide-scale everyone-I-know-including-children ubiquity of Prozac?

Oh, that's exactly what I'm doing, Mister Ethereal Bligh.

*stone cold poker face*








All I'm trying to do is point out the danger of the notion "everyone takes it, so it must be OK." I understand now that you really meant "everyone"---news to me! Pregnant women? Who knew! In some circumstances, it may indeed be safe to use this assumption, but if you are going to use it, it's probably a good idea to clearly establish its appropriateness. We don't all know the stats.
posted by tss at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2004


And as psychoactive drugs go, Prozac is extremely mild, and takes weeks to build up in the body to the point where effects are even noticeable - that's assuming you're actually taking 100 mg of the shit every single day.

If you're taking 100mg of prozac every day, then you passed the dosage needed for "noticeable effects" long ago. Also, you are probably on some other, heavier stuff to boot.
posted by bingo at 8:36 PM on August 9, 2004


The Guardian science section returns to the topic: Does your drinking water have Prozac in it?

It's unlikely. Media reports this week claimed that the Environment Agency had found significant levels of the antidepressant Prozac in drinking water, amounting to what some referred to as "mass medication". But the Environment Agency says it has never looked at Prozac. Instead, it attributes the work to Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat MP with a long-standing interest in the issue. "There is no research that shows Prozac is in water. There's no analytical data at all," says Tony Lloyd, who runs the water research programme at the Drinking Water Inspectorate.
posted by raygirvan at 5:04 AM on August 12, 2004


Ah HA! So we don't know Prozac isn't in the water, either!

Oy. This Norman Baker sounds like a class act.
posted by techgnollogic at 6:05 AM on August 12, 2004


Yep. This Scotsman coverage elaborates a bit on who said what. Baker's report quoted EA results on pharmaceuticals in effluents and groundwater, but added his own speculation that they might get through subsequent processing for drinking water. He has no scientific credentials.
posted by raygirvan at 9:14 AM on August 12, 2004


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