Warehouse K
Toxic Brew
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Farm Antibiotics, Growth Drugs, Found In Tapwater


By James Donahue


Bad enough that the drugs we humans are taking are being passed through our excrements or being flushed down our toilets and making their way into our drinking water.


Now in addition to the antibiotics, the blood pressure medications, birth control pills, the tranquilizers, hormones, heart medicines and sexual stimulants passing through this nation of pill poppers, authorities say they also are finding traces of drugs used on farms for enhancing animal growth, preventing disease and increasing feed efficiency. That too is mixing with our drinking water.


And there is more. It also has been found that U.S. manufacturers, including major drug makers, are legally releasing millions of pounds of pharmaceuticals and other toxic chemicals into rivers, lakes and other bodies of water.


Trace amounts of a long list of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, mood stabilizers, sex hormones, and pharmaceuticals used in manufacturing like lithium and nitroglycerin are turning up in public drinking water.


What is scary about this is that our septic systems and municipal waste treatment systems are not equipped to filter these chemicals from the water. Most cities and water providers do not even test for these elements. Yet researchers say that they find pharma-tainted water everywhere they look. That means most Americans consume traces of these pharmaceuticals every time they drink a glass of water or eat food prepared in water from their kitchen faucets.


The sources of all of this contamination are so extensive, gaining some control is almost impossible to consider. People consume prescribed drugs and then excrete what the bodies do not absorb. If the drugs go unused, they are flushed down toilets thus going directly into the treatment systems that discharge it all into rivers and lakes.


It is estimated that another 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging are thrown away by hospitals and long-term care facilities.


A 2004 study designed to identify antibiotics in waterways that originated from both human and animal users also found traces of the drugs specifically used in farm animals. The study looked for the antibiotic monensin, used to enhance growth in cattle. The results were shocking. In some cases the concentration of the drug near big cattle feeding areas measured from 20 to 1,000 times greater in stream sediment.


Ken Carlson, the principal investigator in that study, said the discovery raises three primary concerns. He said there is a potential toxic danger to fish, plants and other aquatic organisms. There also is concern that the drugs will affect humans who consume them in drinking water, since existing water treatment plants are not equipped to eliminate them.


The final and most disconcerting worry is that the types of animal and human antibiotics getting in the water are contributing to the emergence of new strains of drug-resistant disease bacteria.


Researchers have found that even diluted amounts of these drugs indeed harm fish and other aquatic creatures and that human cells do not grow normally in the laboratory when exposed even to trace amounts of certain drugs. Thus they reason that the constant consumption of large combinations of so many narcotics is having its affect on humans.


A collaborative study by the Federal Drug Administration and the Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is not only looking for drugs in waterways, but attempting to find ways to control them.


For example, the Colorado State group has been working with area cattlemen in an effort to identify the best management practices to minimize the release of these drugs into the environment, said cooperative investigator Amy Pruden.


Pruden said it is believed these compounds get in waterways because only a fraction of the drugs are metabolized by both animals and humans. This means active compounds pass through the body and are discharged into public wastewater systems. Because the compounds are still active, they become an environmental issue.


Thus the very real threat grows that the water we drink, that we use for cooking and bathing, is saturated with minute traces of uninvited narcotics that are collectively affecting our health.


Even though we are aware of this problem . . . we are not sure a solution can be found. The complex system of human and animal waste disposal, involving home and farm septic tank processing, municipal lagoon and chemical processing plants, have no way of separating these drugs from the water that eventually finds it way back into the lakes, streams and ground water supplies.


The best solutions, it seems, would include either reducing the amount of narcotic use or sending all human and animal excrement to toxic waste dumps.


But drug companies will not want to give up their big profits so getting us all off the drug machine probably won't be considered. Could enough disposable land be found in this overpopulated and polluted world?