WHAT ARE TRACE PHARMACEUTICALS?
TRACE PHARMACEUTICALS are sometimes called microconstituents or emerging contaminants. They are products that enter the water supply through animal-based agricultural runoff or from human sources. A high percentage of pharmaceuticals in wastewater enter the water supply when people dispose of medicines in the sink or toilet. Most, if not all, pharmaceutical products — whether used in animals or in humans — are used in doses at which some amounts are passed through the user and back into water systems.
A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of many US towns and cities
To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO TRACE PHARMACEUTICALS
Just because pharmaceuticals are only found in our water supplies in trace amounts that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing to worry about. Drugs are intended for specific uses and can have side effects. What drug may be helping one person can be detrimental to the health of the next person. For instance, we don’t give certain medications to pregnant women or children because the developing body is very sensitive.
Another concern is that people might have allergies to some of the drugs that contaminate the water. Antibiotics, for example, are known to cause allergic reactions in susceptible people. These reactions can be severe—they include symptoms that range from hives and wheezing to the potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
A common issue in our rivers now is fish changing their sex because of pharmaceutical pollution in our rivers, with estrogen being the main culprit.
NO LAWS EXIST TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC FROM TRACE PHARMACEUTICALS
Many chemicals are highly regulated because they are known to negatively affect human and environmental health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with regulating exposure to these chemicals, but pharmaceuticals are not included in its regulatory scheme. Despite years of prodding by environmental scientists, the EPA has given very little attention to the dangers posed by widespread pharmaceutical contamination.