09 March 2008

Clearly Overmedicated

This explains so much about the personality of our nation. From the AP:

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, an Associated Press investigation shows.

All joking aside, the article is pretty exhaustive, looking specifically at what substances have been found where, and presenting potential answers to the question "Why?"

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

There's also this:

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

and this:

In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

and this:

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

The fathead minnows with shrinking heads aren't the only example of wildlife getting a raw deal. Male fish in pharmaceutical-tainted waterways appear to be subject to a type of "feminization," creating egg yolk proteins in a process "usually restricted to females." The article suggests there is evidence of contamination among earthworms and plankton as well.

Finally, now that we know there's a problem, there's the question of what to do about it. The outlook isn't good. The article points out that there's not nearly enough money being spent to address the problem, and "The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water."

This is all pretty disheartening. And it gets worse. To compound the problem,

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

And not to totally depress anybody, but there's another tiny, niggling issue:

There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Bleak, bleak, bleak. I don't even know how to comment, really. What is there to say? Bottoms up, America?