U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals down the drain, pumping contaminants into America's drinking water, according to an ongoing Associated Press investigation.
These discarded medications are expired, spoiled, over-prescribed or unneeded. Some are simply unused because patients refuse to take them, can't tolerate them or die with nearly full 90-day supplies of multiple prescriptions on their nightstands.
Few of the country's 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care homes keep data on the pharmaceutical waste they generate. Based on a small sample, though, the AP was able to project an annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging, with no way to separate out the drug volume.
One thing is clear: The massive amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health services industry is aggravating an emerging problem documented by a series of AP investigative stories — the commonplace presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the nation's drinking water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans.
Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs....
Hospital waste is particularly laden with both germs and antibiotics, says microbiologist Thomas Schwartz at Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany.
The mix is a scary one.
In tests of wastewater retrieved near other European hospitals and one in Davis County, Utah, scientists were able to link drug dumping to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers, according to scientific studies reviewed by the AP.
Researchers have focused on cell-poisoning anticancer drugs and fluoroquinolone class antibiotics, like anthrax fighter ciprofloxacin.
Keep reading Tons of drugs dumped into wastewater: Discarded medications end up in drinking water, ongoing report finds.
Groups where I work are looking into this - and it's pretty amazing the pharmaceuticals that they find. They also observe a plume of antibiotic-resistant microbes around effluent from wastewater treatment plants - and one of the most interesting (albeit funky) projects that I actually contributed to was to measure the amount of cocaine metabolites coming into treatment plants and tracking it back to an estimate of cocaine use in a particular community. Alot of this is because of the combination of improved detection methods (more that they have instuments with increased sensitivity) and just such incredibly widespread use of these pharmaceuticals. I think down the road will find more reasons while all of this is - a pretty bad thing on a broader environmental scale.
Pam--Well, you just made me even more scared. What do you think, it won't be too long when something small, but big, bites us in the butt and we can't do anything about it and a lot of people get sick / die? Of course, I'm a fan of such doomsday themes... not the actuality, the dark romanticism, if that's the right way to describe it. All this just makes it clearer than day that science has a long ways to catch up to, what, capitalism? Consumerism? stuff pushed otoo fast through th epipeline so someone could get rich? That's dumbing it down, I know, but we're going to spend centuries trying to fix this stuff, and we STILL don't seem to have any effective, inclusive polcies to prevent new things from happening. Millenia?
One of these days, the chickens will all come home to roost on all of this... and they will have three eyes.
Don--Ha. You know, I was standing in the mirror this morning and noticed some strange growth on my forehead....
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