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The Drug Store in Your Tap Water


By Martha Rosenberg
Created: February 2, 2011 Last Updated: February 2, 2011
Related articles: Health » Environment & Health
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ST. LAWRENCE PHARMACY: Male fish in the estrogen-laden St. Lawrence River around Montreal are developing ovaries. (Olivier Jean/AFP/Getty Images)

ST. LAWRENCE PHARMACY: Male fish in the estrogen-laden St. Lawrence River around Montreal are developing ovaries. (Olivier Jean/AFP/Getty Images)

You don't have to eat cattle that have worn trenbolone ear implants to end up with the growth-stimulating androgenic hormone in your body, reported the Associated Press in 2008.

Water taken near a Nebraska feedlot had four times the trenbolone levels as other water samples, and male fathead minnows nearby had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Nor do you have to see a doctor to imbibe a witch’s brew of prescriptions like pain pills, antibiotics, and psychiatric, cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, and heart meds in your drinking water, says the AP. And it’s all free of charge.

Other “biosolids” found in drinking water include antifungal drugs and bisphenol A, the toxic plastic found in some bottled waters, which people ironically drink to avoid tap water.


While pharma and water-treatment professionals routinely deny the existence of prescription drugs in public waterways and drinking water, Mary Buzby, director of environmental technology for pharma giant Merck, was a little more candid in 2007.

“There's no doubt about it. Pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms,” she remarked at a conference in 2007, says the AP.

And if we need a second opinion about the antibiotics found in Tucson drinking water, sex hormones in San Francisco drinking water, and seizure and anxiety meds in Southern California drinking water, there are the animals themselves.

 (Martha Rosenberg)

(Martha Rosenberg)

Fish caught near wastewater-treatment plants near five major U.S. cities had residues of drugs for treating cholesterol, high blood pressure, allergy, bipolar disorder, and depression, reported Discovery news in 2006.

Male fish in the estrogen-saturated St. Lawrence River around Montreal are developing ovaries, reported Daniel Cyr, at Quebec’s National Institute for Science Research, according to the Independent Post in 2008.

And now fish in the same area are showing signs of the antidepressant Prozac in their systems, says the University of Montreal.

That’s not counting the feminized frogs with both female and male sex organs that are increasingly found in U.S. waterways and even suburban ponds, an ominous “canary in the coal mine” trend that indicates serious ecological damage, say scientists.

When scientists studied hybrid striped bass exposed to Prozac at Clemson University, they found the fish maintained a position on the surface of the water, sometimes with their dorsal fin out of the water, unlike the fish not on Prozac, which remained at the bottom of the tank.

Staying near the top of the water and maintaining “a vertical position in the aquaria” could increase the bass’s susceptibility to predators and decrease their survival, reported the researchers. Nor did the bass eat as much as non-Prozac fish.

A similar loss in survival behaviors has been seen in shrimp exposed to Prozac. Such shrimp are five times more likely to swim toward light than away from it, making them also more susceptible to predators, reports the Southern Daily Echo News.

“Crustaceans are crucial to the food chain, and if shrimp’s natural behavior is being changed because of antidepressant levels in the sea, this could seriously upset the natural balance of the ecosystem,” says Dr. Alex Ford, from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

For years, public health officials have told people that just because the bass and other fish in their waterways are contaminated with chlordane, PCBs, and methylmercury, it doesn’t mean the drinking water is unsafe. But the prescription-drugs levels in fish are precisely because the drinking water is unsafe.

Martha Rosenberg is a journalist from Chicago.




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