Last week I attended Advanced Placement Environmental Science Educators Training at Kennesaw State University. Kennesaw University is located in the north-western part of the massive metropolis called Atlanta. During the training I learned different inquiry (lab) based methods of teaching advanced placement environmental science to students. It was a great week filled with fun experiences.
As a part of the experiential learning for the training, the training participants visited the Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) sewage treatment plant. While there, we discussed the advantages of an MBR over traditional sewage treatment plants. In the middle of this discussion, a person asked a question about pharmaceuticals. I vividly remember the question: Do MBR sewage treatment process remove pharmaceuticals in the treated water?
That question actually made me think twice about where the medications (such as pills, injections, topical creams, etc) that millions and millions of people take everyday ends-up. In fact, it is a known fact that what goes in must come out. Which conforms with the law of conservation of mass. Only a small portion of the medication that we ingest is actually metabolized. The rest is released to the environment through our urine, fecal matters, through perspiration, and many other means. The questions I asked myself while reflecting on this issue was: where do the by-products go to after we flush the toilets and/or when dumped in landfills after they expire? Are there microbes or natural phenomenon that break these pharmaceuticals down?
Pharmaceuticals are the biggest incoming environmental and health challenge of our time. There are millions and millions of people taking a variety of medication each single day. All these pharmaceuticals finally end up in our waterways. In addition, most of the pharmaceuticals have long half-lives (Brausch et al.2012). Furthermore, there are few natural microbes capable of metabolizing these toxic chemicals. Thus, they stay in the environment longer increasing the likelihood that their concentrations in our waterways will continue to increase each passing year and possibly reaching toxic levels in a not so distant future.
The effect of pharmaceuticals to human and other animals is not very well documented as of yet. However, several studies done on fish have shown negative effect to fish population exposed to elevated levels of pharmaceuticals in rivers, streams, and lakes (Daughton & Temes, 1999; Boxall et al. 2003a; 2004a; Floate et al. 2005). Furthermore, some studies have confirmed that in some species male fish have actually turned into female when their habitats were exposed to high levels of pharmaceuticals for long durations(Brodin et al. 2014).
What the low concentrations of pharmaceuticals found currently in drinking water doing to the human body is currently a mystery.
Admittedly, the pharmaceuticals are in minute concentrations right now. However, since none of the water treatment plants can remove them off of our water supply–we are running the risk of their concentration increasing over the next few years to toxic levels and harming us if they are not doing so already.
No Government Plans to Eliminate Pharmaceutical in Our Drinking Water
Right now in America there are no legislation to deal with pharmaceuticals in drinking water or the water that goes into the streams, rivers, and lakes. At the same time, trace amount of pharmaceuticals have already been recorded in many urban and suburban water supply systems.
What is America going to do with this impending health and environmental problem?
I do not know about you, but I would rather not drink unprescribed pills in the water I drink. That’s just me.
With all the hormones, antidepressants, and other different types of medications in the drinking water supplies; no wonder–people can no-longer stand each- other.
And you are wrong even if you drink bottled water–you are still taking in pills!