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March 9, 2008 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Drugs in the water A new Associated Press study finds that "A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans." Surely, though, the detected quantities are far too small to have any effect on the public. Maybe not - "scant amounts may exert powerful effects". Also: "What makes pharmaceutical pollution so worrisome is that the usual safeguards that protect us from bacteria and toxins, fail to rid sewage of these chemicals."

More on the Italian study in the second link.
posted by Kirth Gerson (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you believe in homeopathy, presumably this would freak the shit out of you.
posted by rhymer at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


neat. I may have to start drinking tap water again. Although the bottled water I buy is probably just tap water.
posted by Grod at 11:44 AM on March 9, 2008


See also: male fish producing eggs (bugmenot for second link).
posted by salvia at 11:45 AM on March 9, 2008


This is deeply disturbing. Add to this the known "body burden" (previously) we all carry from environmental toxins from food and air, it's a wonder every person is not chronically ill. No one knows how these chemicals work when they interact with other chemicals, each person has a unique chemical stew.
posted by stbalbach at 11:48 AM on March 9, 2008


Time to flush a lot of hallucinogens.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:49 AM on March 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


We can just invent new drugs to counteract the effects of the old ones.
posted by empath at 11:53 AM on March 9, 2008


Interesting and a bit scary, but I'm not clear what the solution to it is. Obviously we can cut back dramatically on the use of drugs in agriculture, which are probably a major source of pharmaceutical pollution (and a lot of other problems besides), but drugs being excreted by humans seem like a trickier problem. The social and economic costs of eliminating or curtailing pharmaceutical use in humans would be staggering, and it's unrealistic to expect every person on (say) birth-control pills to pee into some sort of biohazard container. The only solution would seem to be a major overhaul of our sewage-treatment systems.

Sadly I don't see that happening. It's hard enough to get people to pay for hospitals or schools; sewage-treatment plants are probably an even harder sell when the threat isn't dire and immediate.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:56 AM on March 9, 2008


The current body burden link, stbalbach. Blech.
posted by Grod at 11:59 AM on March 9, 2008


Sewage treatment plants are tough to sell even when the threat is dire and immediate. My father has worked for a wastewater treatment plant all my life, and when he has to get a new plant approved, it's a huge process. No one believes they need a new sewer plant until sewage is literally backing up into their basements.

This sort of pollution really worries him, as does the issue of radioactivity (for instance, if you poop while receiving radiation therapy, you can put some pretty bad stuff into the sewage), which is also not tested for with current EPA regs.
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:00 PM on March 9, 2008


According to this AP article: "One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants."
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2008




Tertiary treatment combined with created wetlands to further filter the water would go a long way towards addressing this but as InnocentByStander says no-one wants to pay for it.

Marin County, arguably one of the wealthiest and most eco-(self)conscious places in the world, has had two (three?) major sewage spills this winter. If they can't get the populace to pay for treatment facilities with proper capacity imagine how hard it is in more conservative or poverty stricken areas.
posted by fshgrl at 12:31 PM on March 9, 2008


This could mean the end of the world.
posted by gsb at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2008


The difficulty of new treatment plants is precisely why we need to flush a ton of hallucinogens. The government hates Drug-drugs, but pharmaceuticals? Who cares, that is medicine! If people start getting fascinated by their hands and laughing at the coffee maker, then we get some state action and fast. Or at the least, everyone who flushed hallucinogens gets put on the terror list for causing bad trips.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2008




This is exactly why I don't consume anything with water in it.


[dies]
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on March 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


W.C. Fields was rightly cautious about water.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm drinking tap water right now. 'Cause I'm hard like that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


My RC Cola and cigarettes diet seems to be paying off.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:15 PM on March 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


40 years later and the Yippies finally follow through
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 2:18 PM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


No! My precious bodily fluids!
posted by Kikkoman at 2:26 PM on March 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, this solves the healthcare crisis.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:31 PM on March 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, this solves the healthcare crisis.

It just means Big Pharma will want a cut of your water bill.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:40 PM on March 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Phthalates are considered a hazardous waste and are regulated as pollutants when industry releases them into the environment. In contrast, phthalates are essentially unregulated in food, cosmetics, and consumer products. One phthalate, DEHP, is regulated in drinking water. In addition, this phthalate was removed voluntarily from children's toys more than a decade ago.
Now these asymmetries are weird to say the least.

Yet it's basically the problem posed by lead , whose toxicity seems to be undisputed. This rather old article reveals the problem of the little country of Malta in dealing with replacement of lead in gasoline with benzene, toluene and other carcinogenic compounds. Apparently, catalytic converters need to work at a proper temperature and need to be serviced after 50K kilometers ; poor people may also not have enough money to afford a new "cleaner" vehicle.

Additionally this study on catalytic converters suggests that the age of the vehicle is linked to an increase of emission of dangerous compounds, which may suggest that maintenance on converters could be needed. But , this increases the cost of ownership of vehicle, which is one variable hated by any consumer, but the more affluent ones.

And that's just for gasoline, water is a lot more essential.

Blazecock Pileon writes "It just means Big Pharma will want a cut of your water bill."

I can't see how bigpharma can address that without replacing the indicted compounds with quickly biodegradable ones, assuming that' somehow possible. I also don't see why people should pay this undesidered side effect, as we never wanted to buy a drug that may harmus later. It's pointless !
posted by elpapacito at 2:45 PM on March 9, 2008


Looks like we're on our way to Year Zero.
posted by champthom at 3:03 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

Ahem... (choke cough)
posted by Class Goat at 3:05 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


champthom writes "Looks like we're on our way to Year Zero."

Are you suggesting this is all makebelieve to sell more osmosmerized tap water at premium price ? ?

yeah , that too !
posted by elpapacito at 3:05 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, this post made my day.

Sigh.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2008


Unfortunately, this is the type of thing that keeps people drinking bottled water instead of tap water. When was the last time you drank out of one of these?
posted by degoao at 3:25 PM on March 9, 2008


Grod writes "The current body burden link, stbalbach. Blech."

Unless I'm missing something, the Human Toxome Project's database consists of eight studies, none with more than 22 participants. Not that it doesn't make me want to run into the woods and live off grain alcohol and distilled water, but it isn't a whole lot of data. I'd be a lot more interested in seeing this done on a scale that makes it possible to correlate between exposure and disease at these levels. Of course, I'm no toxicologist.

Still... Ick. Ick. Ick.
posted by wtdoor at 3:55 PM on March 9, 2008


BitterOldPunk: "My RC Cola and cigarettes diet seems to be paying off."

No moon pie?
posted by octothorpe at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2008




It could be worse.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 PM on March 9, 2008


What's all this about the Osmonds and drinking water?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:30 PM on March 9, 2008


Drinking bottled water is unhealthy: leachates from the plastic and higher levels of bacteria.

Our air is poisoned and our water is poisoned. We have really screwed the pooch on this whole "life" concept.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:45 PM on March 9, 2008




Now in British Columbia, we can return unused prescriptions, OTC drugs or even throat lozenges to the pharmacy.

http://www.medicationsreturn.ca/british_columbia_en.php

But, what about our pee?
posted by SSinVan at 6:04 PM on March 9, 2008


One tidbit that gets overlooked at times like these is that we are getting a lot better at detecting these chemicals. Something we may have been able to detect at parts per thousand 20 years ago we can now find at parts per billion or in some cases even parts per trillion. At some point, we'll be able to find everything in everything. Then what?
posted by Patapsco Mike at 7:27 PM on March 9, 2008


And then we establish safe limits for their presence and hold polluters responsible for their contamination. I'd have thought that was obvious.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 PM on March 9, 2008


This problem solves itself. These are valuable and expensive drugs. Hell, the amount of cocaine that is pissed away daily is worth millions. Its really time we started solving our healthcare woes with a big gulp of the old yellow instead of flushing it down.

Who's with me?! You go first!
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:56 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Too bad it doesn't say what the actual concentrations found are. What is it? One in a billion? One in ten billion parts?

Also it'd be interesting to know how many of these drugs would survive boiling. More hot coffee and tea everyone!
posted by storybored at 8:55 PM on March 9, 2008


Our air is poisoned and our water is poisoned. We have really screwed the pooch on this whole "life" concept.

Don't forget about the fish, also poisoned! At least we're thorough.
posted by salvia at 10:27 PM on March 9, 2008


What fish? The ones we haven't killed with trawl fishing are being killed by the algae blooms from our fertilizer run-off.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:53 PM on March 9, 2008


Well, on the bright side, if the male fish start laying eggs, then maybe the reproduction rates will double! (Or, uh, drop to zero.)
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on March 9, 2008


I was in Zambia last year near the end of the rainy season.

We were in the middle of nowhere, driving our Land Rover to a school out there where 600 children who never would have got an education now do in fact get one, thanks to benevolent people in Japan, or Canada, or Germany, or wherever. The rain had turned the dirt roads into something akin to the surface of the moon, but with muddy water in every depression.

I remember as we crossed through one particularly large brown puddle, there was a boy at the edge of it, filling his family's water bucket with the same water our tires were passing through.

...

And yet, somehow - stuff like this is considered newsworthy.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:12 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


And then we establish safe limits for their presence and hold polluters responsible for their contamination. I'd have thought that was obvious.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 PM

In this case, it's the people who are the polluters. Maybe you would suggest a tax on those taking birth control pills, Xanax, etc.

As to "safe levels," thanks to the miracle of dilution I can assure you that the levels detected would be considered safe by those that determine such things. As to synergistic effects, no one will ever know.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:08 AM on March 10, 2008


Too bad it doesn't say what the actual concentrations found are. What is it? One in a billion? One in ten billion parts?

Also it'd be interesting to know how many of these drugs would survive boiling. More hot coffee and tea everyone!
posted by storybored at 6:57 AM on March 10, 2008


there was a boy at the edge of it, filling his family's water bucket with the same water our tires were passing through.
...
And yet, somehow - stuff like this is considered newsworthy.


And whenever my grandfather got cuts on his hands on the job, he would frequently rinse them in gasoline.

So?

It's still significant news that we're all swimming in pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 AM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Too bad it doesn't say what the actual concentrations found are. What is it? One in a billion? One in ten billion parts?

Well, it does say this:

the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion

For me the real question is this: If there's no systematic way to deal with these chemicals, and the attitude now is just basically, "well, it's only a little contamination," what happens as these chemicals continue to accrue over time? Without some systemic mechanism to prevent or ameliorate this form of contamination, the chemicals will eventually be present in drinking water in large enough concentrations to pose significant risks (assuming the current weak cocktail of pharmaceuticals and hormones actually is harmless). What then? Just keep lowering the standards for what constitutes a problem like we do with virtually every other problem? We've already lowered the bar on mercury contamination in fish so much that we now consider it an acceptable solution to the problem to just recommend less consumption of fish. In a few years, should we expect a recommendation not to drink tap-water more than three times a month?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:05 AM on March 10, 2008


As to "safe levels," thanks to the miracle of dilution I can assure you that the levels detected would be considered safe by those that determine such things.

"'Dilution is not the solution for some of these newer compounds,' said Steven Bay, a toxicologist with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project in Costa Mesa." [here]
posted by salvia at 8:27 AM on March 10, 2008


Part of the reason this kind of information is coming out is due to advances in analytical techniques. Detection limits in the parts per trillion are difficult for everyday chemicals we have been analyzing for years.
posted by Big_B at 9:23 AM on March 10, 2008




Part of the reason this kind of information is coming out is due to advances in analytical techniques.

I agree in theory, but come on you guys. We knew about perchlorate in *breast milk* two years ago. We've known about falling sperm counts tied to toxins for years. I'm not going to bother to look up more, but there have been multiple studies exposing the dangers of mass "toxination." No one cares.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:25 AM on March 10, 2008


Perchlorate in breast milk? Falling sperm counts? Now, look. Do I look all rancid and clotted? You look at me, Jack. Eh? Look, eh? And I drink a lot of water, you know. I'm what you might call a water man, Jack - that's what I am. And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there's nothing wrong with my bodily fluids. Not a thing, Jackie.
posted by eritain at 3:28 PM on March 10, 2008


A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

Not true.

"Chemists who tested drinking water from 20 utilities nationwide said they did not detect any contaminants at all at San Francisco's tap, despite news reports to the contrary.

...

Among its findings, the news agency said San Francisco's water contained a sex hormone. The sex hormone was supposedly estradiol, a hormone found in vertebrate animals - mammals, reptiles, birds and fish.

In fact, no such compounds turned up in San Francisco's water samples, Snyder said.

The mistake apparently resulted from confusion over the waterworks foundation's laboratory test results conveyed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to the Associated Press. The news service said it was looking into the matter."

...
posted by mrgrimm at 8:07 AM on March 11, 2008


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