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E-M:/ Pharmaceuticals in European water supplies

Enviro-Mich message from "MICHAEL W. MURRAY" <MURRAY@nwf.org>

The following is posted, with permission, from the Envirolink Network.


WASHINGTON, DC, March 23, 1998 (ENS) - Pharameuticals of all kinds
are turning up in European water supplies, according to an article
published in the March 21 issue of Science News. Cholesterol-lowering
drugs, antibiotics, analgesics, antiseptics,and beta-blocker heart drugs,
are just a few of the drugs in the drinking water, lakes, rivers, and
streams of Europe.

There is practically no data for gauging the potential toxicity of these
pharmaceuticals to humans, wildlife or aquatic ecosystems, scientists

New studies show the drugs are coming from human wastes. Half of an
prescribed pharmaceutical may be excreted from the patient's body in its
original form, on in another biologically active form. In some cases up to
90 percent of the drugs originally ingested find their way into water

Scientists say that partially degraded drugs may be converted back into
their active form through chemical reactions that occur in the

This year, the Swiss Federal Research Station documented the
presence of clofibric acid, a widely-used cholesterol-lowering drug,
throughout Switzerland's waters - from rural mountain lakes to rivers
flowing through densely populated areas. The wide-spread presence of
clofibric acid, which is not even manufactured in Switzerland, is
evidence that it did not come from some industrial accident or spill, but
from human wastes, says Swiss scientist Hans-Rudolf Buser.

Scientists with the Technical University of Berlin have conducted
research showing high levels of clofibric acid (4 parts per billion [ppb]) in
Berlin groundwater and at levels of up to 0.2 ppb in all tap water sampled
in the study. A Berlin team of scientists has also found in Berlin's drinking
water additional drugs that regulate blood-lipid levels (such as
phenazone and fenofibrate) and analgesics (including ibuprofen and

In other research in Germany, chemist Thomas Ternes, with the
municipal water research laboratory in Wiesbaden, Germany, launched a
water monitoring project and detected 30 of 60 common pharmaceuticals
in sewage, treated water, and in nearly all streams and rivers in
Germany. These include: lipid-lowering drugs, antibiotics, analgesics,
antiseptics, beta-blocker heart drugs, and drugs to control epilepsy.

The concentrations of antibiotics being found in German wastewater
suggest that, "these antibiotics may be present at levels of consequence
to bacteria - levels that could not only alter the ecology of the
environment but also give rise to antibiotic resistance," says Stuart Levy,
who directs the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at
Tufts University in Boston.

The same drugs could be found in U.S. waters if they were monitored
for pharmaceuticals, the article suggests. Responsibility for directly
monitoring U.S. waters for drugs falls neither under the jurisdiction of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor under the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA).

"The issue of drugs in water is certainly an area where we could use a
lot more science," says James Pendergast, acting director of the EPA
division that regulates what comes out of sewage-treatment plants. "To
date, information on hazards (to wildlife or to people) at the nanogram
level just hasn't been developed."

Pendergast says water-quality engineers recognize that one of the
highest-volume contaminants emerging in sewage-plant effluent,
especially early in the morning, is caffeine, a substance excreted by all
those people who regularly rely on their morning coffee to jump-start the

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