Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Drugs in Drinking Water: Are Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Evolving? (EH Update)

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Drugs in Drinking Water: Are Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Evolving? (EH Update)

Article excerpt

Approximately 20 years ago, researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) were examining sludge from a wastewater treatment plant and discovered that it contained excreted aspirin, caffeine, and nicotine. A short time after that, the cholesterol-lowering drug clofibric acid was detected in a groundwater reservoir in the Phoenix, Arizona, area.

Now, new studies indicate that water throughout the United States and the world contains traces of prescription antibiotics, painkillers, anti-inflammatory compounds, anti-convulsive medications, cancer-treatment agents, psychiatric remedies, and oral contraceptives. In some cases, from 50 to 90 percent of a pharmaceutical drug is excreted from the body in its biologically active form.

The American Chemical Society addressed the issue of pharmaceuticals in water at a symposium in September 2000. Christian G. Daughton, chief of chemistry at U.S. EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas, spoke at the event and said that water polluted with drugs is a "newly emerging issue" for the agency.

Currently, scientists do not have enough information to predict the effects of these drug traces on human health or the ecosystem. They do, however, have great concerns about antibiotics. Many scientists believe that overprescription, patient misuse, and agricultural overuse are the primary factors driving the growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. …

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