As water scarcity increases, the push for recycling water gets a boost. While there is a certain logic in recovering water, the problem is that pharmaceuticals have made their way into our drinking system worldwide. While we do not yet understand the precise effects on human health, animal studies suggest that we are heading towards a new crisis. After intake and metabolism, drugs, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones for birth control end up into our surface and drinking water. Worse, many of the compounds are so persistent that 1,000's of tons flow annually into the sea, then accumulate in the fish we eat. When it comes antibiotics, we dispersing a multiple, since more than 50 percent of the world's consumption is not for making people healthy, but to grow cows fat faster. We thought it were only the heavy metals the fish absorb that should us worry.
Drugs are known to cause reproductive, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects in water life. Prozac residue causes male mussels to spawn; anti-hypertension drugs impact the reproduction of crayfish and crabs. The infiltration of antibiotics and anti-bacterials increases the resistance of bacteria. This has serious implications for treating infections in the future. Anti-tumor drugs used in chemotherapy are known to cause mutagenic and teratogenic effects. There is increasing evidence of endocrine disruption in wildlife even when only exposed to trace levels of synthetic hormones. Painkillers, like Ibuprofen and even nicotine are not removed during the drinking water process. We thought we finally handled the adverse effects of second-hand smoking by prohibiting smoking in public places. Now it seems that we are all smoking anyway - through our drinking water!
The conventional water treatment plants are incapable of removing pharmaceuticals. Studies demonstrated that coagulation, sedimentation and filtration eliminates only 10-12 percent of the active ingredients. This accumulates in sludge, which is often recycled as a soil additives, exposing our food chain once more to unwanted ingredients which can continue to cause havoc for years to come. Activated carbon filtration and ozone treatment can remove up to 75 percent removal. However, this still exposes the population to the remaining 25 percent. As water continues to be recycled - and re- recycled entering into closed loops, and consumption of both prescription and over-the- counter drugs increases, society and the ecosystems on which our life depends are overly exposed to a broad cocktail of pharmaceuticals. It would not be a surprise that whole sections of the population start suffering from mood swings and shifting sex behavior.
Officials in Philadelphia discovered 56 pharmaceuticals in treated drinking water. Nearly 20 million residents of Southern California are exposed to anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety drugs. San Francisco's drinking water contains a synthetic hard to break down sex hormone. Unfortunately, bottled water is filtered drinking water in a wasteful plastic container, and most water bottlers do not test for pharmaceuticals either. Even our home filtration systems only reduce - but cannot eliminate drugs. Your only salvation is your own well from your own watershed. This is available to very few indeed.
It is time to revisit health care and the search for effective medicine. Undoubtedly, in the wake of these legitimate concerns, traditional and natural medicine becomes more relevant than ever. The vision of the Bhutanese constitution to guarantee traditional medicine to all citizens now sounds like a visionary decision. As we are spreading medicine indiscriminately throughout the environment and society, it is urgent to provide new shelf-life guidelines to the pharmaceutical industry. Just like it took decades to realize that plastics do not disintegrate and build up of massive junk islands in the Pacific Ocean, pharmacological products do not degrade and thus accumulate in water bodies - with one major difference - those mood swing chemicals and chemotherapy residues are invisible to the human eye. It is hard to make the gross impact visible.
The typical response from the concerned economic interests is that there is no scientific proof that humans are affected. The problem is that when the full proof is delivered, then it is too late and remedy will be impossible. Actually, it is not the effect of one pharmaceutical product, it is the cocktail that does irreparable damage. Therefore it seems that three parallel initiatives are needed. First all medicine needs to include a trigger that secures the disintegration of the complex formulations after intake. Instead of only discovering new drugs and invent new delivery methods, research must identify triggers to disassemble these man-made molecules the moment they leave the human body. Second, water treatment must be equipped to measure the presence of pharmaceuticals in waste water. It is not possible that every city is now obliged to install a reverse osmosis facility that effectively removes 95 percent. Such an end-of-tube solution dramatically increases in costs that should never have to be borne by the tax payer.
Perhaps we should finally focus on tackling the root causes that lead to this massive consumption of pills. Time has come to search for a happier and less stressful life. Whereas the first two solutions can be decided by any responsible government, the third one is a decision we have to make, before it is too late.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.