Monday, January 24, 2011

Are Prescription Drugs in Sewage a Threat to Human Health?

Are fish in the St. Lawrence River feeling happier these days?

Are people who eat them less likely to be depressed?

These questions aren't as silly as they sound. In fact, it's been found that treatment systems are not removing anti-depressant drugs from the waste water headed back to the river. As a result, anti-depressants are showing up in fish livers, brains and muscle tissue; the least amount is in the muscle tissue, which is what people generally eat.

According to a story in The Montreal Gazette reporting on the University of Montreal study:
UdeM professor Sebastien Sauve, a co-author of the study, said that because relatively small amounts are found in meat tissue, he is not worried that these fish pose a danger to humans. 
Research during the last two decades has revealed that pharmaceutical drugs and personal care products are a major source of pollution in the marine environment. Even in very low concentrations, they have altered the ecosystems.

In this instance, Professor Sauve may not be concerned about potential harm to human beings, although many environmentalists are concerned about even seemingly small impacts on the ecosystem.

But for many years there has been growing concern about pharmaceuticals in sewage.

Professor Sauve said, according to The Gazette that "chemotherapy medicines, hormones and antibiotics have been found in fish and they pose a greater danger to human health than antidepressants."

The PBS science show NOVA and other sources reported in the 80s and 90s on the risks caused by antibiotics passing through the sewage treatment system.

One of the main risks is that the more present antibiotic residues are throughout the ecosystem the greater the possibility of organisms developing resistance to them.

Last June, the Chemical and Engineering News reported a significant risk to human health from pharmaceutical wastes in sewage. 
Each year, U.S. farmers fertilize their fields with millions of tons of treated sewage and irrigate with billions of gallons of recycled water. Through this treated waste, an array of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) make their way unregulated from consumers' homes into farm fields. Now researchers find that at least one crop, soybeans, can readily absorb these chemicals, which raises concerns about the possible effects on people and animals that consume the PPCP-containing plants (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es1011115).
The report also notes that "Researchers have previously shown that food crops take up veterinary medicines from manure fertilizer and some cabbage species absorb human pharmaceuticals when grown in hydroponic conditions." 

Obviously, there's a need for concern as to the impact our disposal of medications, personal care products, and other substances we take for granted have on the environment.


1 comment:

  1. It may not have an impact yet. Though they need to be careful for a more sustainable waste management.

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