Friday, March 5, 2010
Mar 4: A report from the Alliance For The Great Lakes (Alliance) calls for more research into the long-term effects of drugs in drinking water and points out the absence of tools available to limit their entrance into the lakes. According to a release, low levels of cotinine -- a nicotine byproduct, and the cholesterol-modifying drug gemfibrozil are among the pharmaceutical compounds scientists have found in Lake Michigan water to date. Though many experts say the levels are too low to show immediate effects on human health, scientists acknowledge they know little about the long-term effects of these drugs on people nor how they might degrade or interact with other chemicals in the water. The report -- Protecting the Great Lakes from Pharmaceutical Pollution -- indicates that the Great Lakes provide drinking water to more than 40 million people.
Noting some of the Great Lakes take up to 100 years to flush out pollutants, the Alliance said the drugs flowing into the world's largest surface freshwater system today will remain there for generations. Researchers worry about the threat to human health from long-term, low-level exposure to pharmaceuticals -- in particular hormones and other chemicals that signal cell changes -- as these are designed to work in the body at low concentrations. The report says sewage treatment plants and current laws are ill-suited to address the emerging problem of pharmaceutical pollution, which has come to light as water quality monitoring technology has become better at detecting lower contaminant levels.
The drug industry says the vast majority of drugs enter waterways via patient excretions, and secondarily by disposal in the garbage or flushing down the toilet. Drugs purchased for use by people or animals enter waterways via various pathways: in treatment plant and septic system effluent, runoff from uncontrolled landfills, industrial discharges, commercial animal feeding operations, and manure applications. Past U.S. efforts to reduce pharmaceutical pollution have emphasized collecting unused medications. Welch said the Alliance is now calling for research into technologies to address drug pollution at the treatment plant stage, and is focusing on national efforts to reduce such pollution at the design and prescription stages. The Alliance has connected with efforts at the national level through a partnership with the Product Stewardship Institute.
Access a release from the Alliance and link to the complete report and a fact sheet (click here).