From the November 2000 Idaho Observer:

Traces of anti-depressants turning up in lakes, rivers

by Don Harkins

Scientists in Europe have discovered that increasing amounts of prescription drugs -- heart medications, anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, anti-cancer chemicals, cholesterol-lowering medicines, hormones and hormone replacements, antibiotics, aspirin, synthetic vitamins and ibuprofin -- are passing through peoples' digestive tracts, surviving sewage treatment and are now being detected in lakes and rivers.

European environmental officials intend to launch an investigation into the effects of pharmaceutical drugs in the water supply. Pharmaceutical companies which market prescription drugs in Europe have been given until the end of this year to provide environmental policy officials with data on their products so their impact can be researched.

The world's largest market for pharmaceutical drugs is the United States. There is no doubt that prescription drugs are contaminating U.S. groundwater in a similar, if not identical fashion. “Just about everything people put into their mouth gets into the water,” commented Dr. Christian Daughton, chief of environmental chemistry at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Though the EPA apparently recognizes the impact pharmaceutical drugs may have on people and the environment, there is no indication that the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Food and Drug Administration are planning to conduct a definitive study of the issue any time soon.

The European investigation is being launched amid valid concerns that the introduction of increasing amounts of toxic drugs may negatively affect aquatic life and inadvertantly expose unsuspecting people to cocktails of prescription drugs.

In 1996, the top 20 prescribed drugs, which include vaccines, aspirin and ibuprofin, Prozac, hormones, synthetic vitamins and antibiotics, totalled 807,739,000 prescriptions in the U.S. It is estimated that at least 95 percent of prescription drugs pass through the body and into groundwater after sewage treatment.

Dr. Thomas Ternes of the Institute for Water Research in Germany sampled the outfall of a sewage treatment facility and found 36 different drugs in the water. Dr. Ternes' findings fuel suspicions that pharmaceutical drugs may be included in the list of pollutants that are causing widespread deaths and mutations of small aquatic organisms such as frogs and snails. “Pharmaceuticals are perhaps also one of the reasons for unexplained mass die-offs in some organisms that we see from time to time,” Dr. Daughton conceeded.

According to London-Sunday Times writer Roger Dobson, other studies have shown that some drugs, especially anti-depressants, have been found to alter the sperm levels and spawning patterns in fish and other aquatic life.

When the European investigation has been completed, authors of the resultant report are expected to make recommendations as to how the environmental damages caused by pharmaceuticals leaching into groundwater can be mitigated. The report is also expected to discuss how peoples' inadvertant exposure to dangerous prescription drugs through drinking, bathing and swimming water can be avoided. Officials are already expecting that the report's recommendations will include stricter regulations to screen out toxic chemical compounds before getting into groundwater.

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