Our Rivers On Drugs

It’s all water down the drain, right? It is, indeed, water going down, but with a stew of pharmaceuticals and other substances. Just because we can’t see it any longer doesn’t mean it isn’t making its way into ground and surface water, negatively impacting water quality and aquatic life and fueling the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Who knew? And all you did was pull the plug.

The situation was laid out in fascinating detail by Emma J. Rosi, Ph.D., in Noble’s Community Room on October 13. Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystems in Millbrook, NY, Dr. Rosi has set up a series of artificial streams in her laboratory where she can gauge how pharmaceuticals affect aquatic life.

Pharmaceuticals, including hormonal compounds, anti-depressants, amphetamines, and antibiotics, are present in surface and ground water where they disrupt the life-cycle of fish and aquatic insects and alter the composition of stream bacteria. It is, she said, a global problem.

She added that wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out pharmaceuticals. Failing sewage pipes, sewer overflows, and agricultural run-off exacerbate the problem. The federal government does not require testing nor has it set limits for the level of drugs in our water.

Personal care products, all those things we use every day, like soap, shampoo, lotions, cosmetics, and in this tick-rich environment, insect spray, are rinsed off and become part of waste water. Traces of prescriptions and over the counter medications that have been ingested, but not completely metabolized, are added to the mix through our own waste.

Dr. Rosi suggested that we encourage local pharmacies to establish take-back programs that will ensure that unused medications are properly disposed of. And that we vote for candidates who support and will fund upgrades of the sewage infrastructure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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