Drugs are Tainting Our Water. But Not for the Reason You’d Think.
Antidepressants, hormones, narcotic and non narcotic pain pills: pharmaceuticals are finding their way into water supplies. But it’s not from run-offs from drug manufacturers; it’s from us. And there isn’t an easy solution.
Researchers in Miami tested 30 different samples from local rivers and streams. What they found was pretty gross: 17 different types of pharmaceutical drugs. So we’re not talking cocaine or heroin here; but probably some of the legal stuff like Adderall or Oxycontin. Birth control pills, antibiotics, blood pressure meds. You name it, they found it.
So where is it coming from? Our pee. When you take a pill, your body does a pretty good job of metabolizing most of the drug– but not all of it. The rest goes down the toilet, passes through the sewer system, and ends up at a wastewater treatment plant. Here the water is cleaned up and moved back into our water systems. Pharmaceuticals can also leach into the ground from septic tanks. And let’s not forget personal care products like shampoos, face wash, toothpaste. It all goes back into the water supply.
Now sure, the water is cleaned up at the treatment plant. That’s why we usually don’t worry about getting hepatitis from taking a dip in the river. But it’s kind of hard to regulate and clean up the water from drugs– specifically the kind that mess with your endocrine system– in the same manor. Our water toxicology screening and removal usually goes by the rule “more = bad.” With endocrine disrupting chemicals, this rule doesn’t work: low levels can be even more toxic than higher levels. Plus new drugs are put on the market all the time. The problem is nearly impossible to fix, and we aren’t sure what the long-term effects will be yet.
The pharmaceuticals found in river water weren’t high enough to cause damage in humans, but animals haven’t been so lucky. Endocrine disruptors, like birth control, have been causing fish and frogs in the river to develop both male and female reproductive systems. I’m sure the antibiotics can’t be having a positive effect on wildlife either. Antibiotic-resistant intersex fish hopped up on opiates would make a for a great movie, but in reality this stuff is messing up the ecosystem.