Study: Range of pharmaceuticals in fish across US

By MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer

Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression, researchers reported Wednesday.

Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.

"The average person hopefully will see this type of a study and see the importance of us thinking about water that we use every day, where does it come from, where does it go to? We need to understand this is a limited resource and we need to learn a lot more about our impacts on it," said study co-author Bryan Brooks, a Baylor University researcher and professor who has published more than a dozen studies related to pharmaceuticals in the environment.

A person would have to eat hundreds of thousands of fish dinners to get even a single therapeutic dose, Brooks said. But researchers including Brooks have found that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues can harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species because of their constant exposure to contaminated water.

Brooks and his colleague Kevin Chambliss tested fish caught in rivers where wastewater treatment plants release treated sewage in Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Orlando, Fla. For comparison, they also tested fish from New Mexico's pristine Gila River Wilderness Area, an area isolated from human sources of pollution.

Earlier research has confirmed that fish absorb medicines because the rivers they live in are contaminated with traces of drugs that are not removed in sewage treatment plants. Much of the contamination comes from the unmetabolized residues of pharmaceuticals that people have taken and excreted; unused medications dumped down the drain also contribute to the problem.

The researchers, whose work was funded by a $150,000 EPA grant, tested fish for 24 different pharmaceuticals, as well as 12 chemicals found in personal care products.

They found trace concentrations of seven drugs and two soap scent chemicals in fish at all five of the urban river sites. The amounts varied, but some of the fish had combinations of many of the compounds in their livers.

The researchers didn't detect anything in the reference fish caught in rural New Mexico.

In an ongoing investigation, The Associated Press has reported trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals have been detected in drinking water provided to at least 46 million Americans.

The EPA has called for additional studies about the impact on humans of long-term consumption of minute amounts of medicines in their drinking water, especially in unknown combinations. Limited laboratory studies have shown that human cells failed to grow or took unusual shapes when exposed to combinations of some pharmaceuticals found in drinking water.

"This pilot study is one important way that EPA is increasing its scientific knowledge about the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment," said EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Rudzinski. She said the completed and expanded EPA sampling for pharmaceuticals and other compounds in fish and surface water is part of the agency's National Rivers and Stream Assessment.

Associated Press
March 25, 2009

Antidepressant drugs found in drinking water; pharmaceuticals have now become environmental pollutants

Pharmaceuticals are now being found in drinking water, according to a study conducted in England. The study looked at 12 pharmaceuticals thought to pose an environmental threat, including painkillers, antibiotics, and antidepressants, and it found traces of these pharmaceuticals in both sewage waters and drinking water. It also found traces in the rivers downstream from the sewage treatment plants.

This is shocking information -- apparently we are dosing ourselves with such high levels of pharmaceuticals that we are now collectively polluting the rivers, streams and even the drinking water for the mass public. Even though this study was conducted in the U.K., there's little doubt that much of the same story would be found here in the United States as well. Why? Because in the United States, these drugs are also being prescribed at alarming levels, and after people take these drugs, they are, of course, entering the sewage treatment centers and being dumped into the rivers and streams that later on are used to make drinking water for people downstream. (Which reminds me, check out a book entitled, "Living Downstream" if you want the details on what's really going on with our rivers these days...)

All of this comes down to the mass medication of the public with trace amounts of prescription drugs. In another words, if you're drinking tap water that's tainted with these drugs, you're getting a little bit of Prozac whether you like it or not. And since we now know that antidepressant drugs promote violent behavior, including suicides and homicides, there's justified alarm at the idea that we're going to medicate the entire country with trace amounts of antidepressant drugs in one grand experiment. Maybe we'll just dump all of these drugs into the water supply, and step back and see what happens. There's already been talk of dumping statin drugs into the water supply because they are presumably so good for your health that everyone should be taking them whether they like it or not.

All of this brings up an issue that has been largely ignored by the pharmaceutical companies, and that is: what is the environmental impact of the mass prescription and mass consumption of their drugs? If millions upon millions of people are taking these drugs, then the environmental impact is potentially quite large. These drugs are, of course, synthetically produced, highly toxic chemicals that not only impact the health of human beings, but also potentially compromise the health of fish and creatures in our oceans. This could be one of the reasons why ocean life is continuing to decline around the world, and it seems like it won't be very long at all before these prescription drug pollutants start showing up in shrimp, crab, lobsters and perhaps someday, even in seaweed. If you thought mercury poisoning was bad, just wait until you hear the announcement that shrimp is contaminated with Prozac.

Interestingly, most pharmaceutical chemicals are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus there is no enforced limit of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water. In fact, in the United States, there is no government agency that is even testing the level of pharmaceuticals in public drinking water on a regular basis. So it is possible, and in fact likely that these levels will continue to rise in the years ahead without being detected or reported to the public at all.

Of course, as I've often said on this site, if you're drinking tap water, you're probably quite foolish to begin with. Most people reading this aren't drinking tap water, and thank goodness for that, because prescription drugs are just one of the many potential toxic pollutants in tap water. You certainly don't want to be consuming this stuff -- instead, you want to be drinking spring water or filtered water, using a quality water filter such as a carbon block filter or a reverse osmosis filter. Distilled water is also good for drinking.

If you're not drinking tap water, the potential for exposure to these toxic pharmaceutical chemicals in the water is remote. If you're showering in water that has some tiny amount of Prozac in it, for example, chances are you're not going to be absorbing a very high dose of Prozac, or at least not high enough to the point where it would be biologically active.

But sadly, most of the population is drinking tap water, and that's where this is a real concern. Just as America Online is now being increasingly questioned over the environmental impact of their tens of millions of free CDs each year that are distributed all over the country, I think it is reasonable now for pharmaceutical companies to answer to the justified accusation that they are manufacturing and releasing toxic chemicals into the environment through human customers. The fact that these toxic chemicals move through the bodies of human first doesn't make them any less toxic to our environment. They should be regulated by the EPA, and they should not be allowed in our rivers and streams, and in a very real sense, pharmaceutical companies should be held financially responsible for the environmental damage caused by their chemical products.

Another interesting thought on all of this is that many plant fertilizer products and soil products contain treated biosludge, which also contains, of course, human waste. These biosludge soil and fertilizer products will also undoubtedly be found to contain levels of pharmaceuticals such as Prozac, Viagra, statin drugs, and antidepressant drugs. The question then becomes, what happens when you start growing crops in these soils? Are these drugs neutralized by the plants, or are they in some way absorbed by the plants where they once again enter the food chain when human beings consume those plants? Is there any regulation of the use of biosludge fertilizers that contain toxic pharmaceutical chemicals?

Sadly, we are increasingly living in a world that is polluted not only by heavy metals, PCBs, and emissions from gasoline engines, we are now living in a world where even our water is polluted with pharmaceutical chemicals which is a direct result of the reckless and widespread prescription of pharmaceuticals by practitioners of conventional medicine. Once again, it seems that as long as there are profits to be made, everybody in the pharmaceutical industry is happy, regardless of the negative impact on the environment. In fact, I don't think you even hear much talk at all these days about pharmaceutical companies working to protect the environment. It's pretty much just, "Here, take this drug, pay us $100 a pill, and then flush it down the toilet. After that, we don't want to think about it anymore."

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