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09.28.2016

Drugs Seeping into Water Supply Becoming More of a Concern

Environmental Science & TechnologyThere has been a lot of news lately about tainted water. Flint, Michigan residents were horrified when it was discovered they were drinking water with dangerously high lead levels. Since then more cities throughout the country have begun rigorous testing of their drinking water. As more results come in, some residents are shocked at what they are hearing. One of the more surprising results for many has been the levels of drugs found in the water.

While it is of course not likely that anyone will ingest noticeable levels any time soon, the microscopic effects on the ecosystem could become a major issue over more time. This, of course, would also harm people as well.

Scientists in Baltimore wanted to investigate the local streams in the area. They noticed the size of certain wildlife was smaller than usual and took samples of several streams nearby. They found that there were high levels of amphetamines and methamphetamines, and the streams closer to urban areas had even higher concentrations of the drugs than other locations.

“They are likely coming down through leaks in the sewer. It also has been shown that the drugs can be released from wastewater treatment plants that are not necessarily designed to remove these compounds,” commented Emma Rosi-Marshall, co-author of the study.

In order to study the direct impact these drugs have on the wildlife and organisms, researchers developed an artificial stream. They placed plants and organisms that can be found throughout Baltimore into the test stream. Then they began to increase levels of amphetamine and methamphetamine, approximating the same levels they recorded in the natural elements. After only a few weeks of exposure, the wildlife was starting to become affected. Some side effects of the drug exposure included bugs maturing faster, the slippery substance on rocks near water stopped growing and bacteria started to mutate.

This is concerning because these small creatures and organisms are the basis of the food chain for Baltimore wildlife. Fish, other plants and birds all depend on the wildlife to survive. These also get injected into other parts of the food chain and ultimately, back to humans again, who were are the original source of the contamination, though now it affects everyone rather than just the initial users.

Scientists have hypothesized that it is the result of drugs being flushed down the toilet, or undigested components of drugs are being flushed with waste water. These concerns have been found before, where for more than a decade measurable levels of pharmaceuticals and other drug compounds have been found in the water supply.

In addition to needing to find better ways to treat wastewater before it reenters nature, we must also find better ways to disposing of drugs. Of course, for the benefit of all involved, having a massive reduction in overall drug use would help the most long-term, binging the emphasis back to the necessity of effective addiction treatment and prevention.

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