Thursday, March 20, 2008

U.S. Drinking Water Tainted by Drugs


AnAssociated Press investigation has found traces of prescription drugs in the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas across the nation.

Among the substances found were antidepressants, heart medication, sex hormones and steroids -- a rainbow of chemicals that leave our bodies, pass unscathed through water treatment facilities and accumulate in the environment.

The chemicals ultimately end up in our drinking water, as the AP's reporting makes clear -- but the consequences of this, says the pharmaceutical industry, are unclear.

"Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or noriskfrom pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the PharmaceuticalResearchand Manufacturers of America.

That's true, to a point. Rigorous epidemiological studies on the healtheffectsof long-term environmental exposures to the drugs found by the AP haven't been conducted. They might be too complicated to everconduct.It's not ethical to intentionally expose people to potentially harmful chemicals, and separating the effect of one chemical from themanyin our water will be difficult.

Butthere is extensive non-epidemiological pointing to the risks of these drugs, especially endocrine disruptors, which have recently beendocumentedturning entire male fish populations hermaphroditic. As the AP notes, many of the drugs disrupt human cells -- making them grow toofast,or too slow -- when tested in the lab.

TheEPA is still focused on detecting the chemicals, and has drawn criticism for not doing enough work on their health effects. But thereareenough warning signs to consider taking precautionary action by finding ways to neutralize the chemicals, which can be done now but is extremely expensive.

What else can be done? More soon....

Image: Fay Celestial

WiSci 2.0: Brandon Keim's Twitter and feeds; Wired Science on Facebook.

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