Birth control, antidepressants, anticoagulants, ibuprofen, lotions, sunscreens, antibacterials…all these and more are showing up in our water supply.
The U.S. Geological Survey sampled 139 rivers and streams recently and found traces of hundreds of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Half the samples contained antibiotics, raising concern about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Other studies have found that estrogen is causing sexual abnormalities in fish, and steroids are disrupting endocrine systems in aquatic animals. In the ocean, filter-feeders like clams and mussels concentrate substances in their tissues which can poison other animals in the food chain such as sea otters. Disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals and personal care products should be disposed of in the trash – not down the toilet.
Wastewater treatment plants do not remove all medications or toxins. Treatment plants are designed to remove solids, bacteria and pathogens only – disolved medicines, household chemicals and toxins end up in waterways and the ocean. The effects of long-term exposure to PPCPs (Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products) on wildlife and people is an emerging area of research. Studies on which substances are most harmful and which biodegrade or persist in the environment will help us develop methods to remove PPCPs from wastewater.
To educate the public, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Pharmaceutical Association joined forces in a consumer outreach campaign, and the White House Office of Drug Control Policy also issued procedures. Proper disposal becomes even more crucial when you consider that a large percentage of oral medications pass through the body and end up in wastewater treatment plants anyway.