|New study says
pharmaceutical wastes taint US waters
| A report from
Water Technology Magazine, 3/13/02.
WASHINGTON — The first nationwide study of pharmaceutical pollution of
rivers and streams shows that most waterways contain some
contamination from antibiotics, steroids, synthetic hormones and other
commonly used drugs.
Of the 139 streams analyzed by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 30
states, about 80 percent contained trace amounts of contaminants that
are routinely discharged into the water in human and livestock waste
and chemical plant refuse, the
Seven or more chemical compounds were found in half the streams
sampled and 10 or more compounds were found in a third of the streams;
a single water sample contained as many as 38 chemicals, the article
The USGS study, which will be published in today's issue of
Environmental Science and Technology, stresses that in many cases
the measured concentration of contaminants such as painkillers, insect
repellent, caffeine and fire retardants was less than 1 part per
billion and rarely exceeded federal standards for drinking water.
But many of the chemical compounds detected are not covered by
drinking-water standards or government health advisories, and little
is known about how the interaction of those chemicals can affect
humans, animals and the environment, according to the Post.
"Protecting the integrity of our water resources is one of the most
essential environmental issues of the 21st Century," the report
states, according to the article. "Little is known about the potential
interactive effects" from complex mixtures of waste contaminants in
the environment, USGS said.
The newspaper said water quality mirrors societal behavior and medical
practices. Antibiotics and other prescription and nonprescription
drugs and personal care products used widely by Americans inevitably
turn up in wastewater; manufacturers and chemical plants legally dump
thousands of tons of compounds into streams and rivers, and the waste
of livestock treated with veterinary pharmaceuticals flows into
"We're not talking about rampant dumping," a USGS Survey official said
in the article. "We're looking at the effect of normal existing usage
for these different chemicals."
The study, conducted in 1999 and 2000, surveyed the occurrence of 95
pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic waste in streams across
The sampling technique focused on streams most susceptible to
contamination, downstream from large urban areas like New York,
Boston, Chicago and Denver, or industrial plants or livestock yards.
The study was not designed to compare the water quality of different
streams, OSGS said, but to create a baseline for future study by
scientists of the persistence and migration patterns of the compounds
and their potential impact on humans and the environment, the Post
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