Drug Compounds in Water: A Manufacturing Issue Hitting Uncomfortably Close to Home

Last year, we blogged about reports of unusually high levels of APIs in the water supplies in and around Patancheru, a hotbed of drug manufacturing in India. (Here are several posts, including interviews with The Land Institute’s expert Stan Cox.)

Recently, this issue hit closer to home, as the U.S. Geological Survey released a report detailing excessively high levels of API—sometimes 10 to 1,000 times normal—at wastewater treatment plants located near two drug manufacturing sites in New York state. These were levels measured in outflow from the wastewater facilities, meaning the water had been treated by both the manufacturer and municipality.

Patrick J. Phillips, USGS scientist and the report’s lead author, recently told me that those two drug facilities (whose owners’ names, beginning with “W” and “C”, can be gleaned from the USGS documents) had been less than cooperative with the environmental researchers. “It’s very difficult for us to get information on what’s formulated at these sites,” Phillips says. “In the absence of that information, it’s hard for us to come up with an analytical strategy. Our strategy was based on a forensic approach where we saw these peaks on chromatographs occurring in samples that we collected from the sites. From there we had to develop analytical methods to look for these compounds. Usually you have a better idea of what to expect. We really weren’t provided with a list from these sites for what they were formulating, and because of that it made it very difficult.”

“We have asked for information from these sites,” he continues. “At one of the sites we were provided with it just about a month ago, and at the other site we’ve never been provided with information. We had to cull that information from requests to FDA as well as looking at the Internet about what was formulated at the sites. So at this point in time for one of the sites we do not have an exhaustive list of what was formulated.”Drugs in Water

Drugs are polluting the environment. It’s been an issue for some time in regards to how consumers dispose of their old and unused meds (no more flushing!), but it’s just as significant an issue for the manufacturers, who need to develop more extensive testing of the environmental impact of effluent leaving their facilities, and who need to join in the campaign to educate the public and support research that can determine the long-term effects, upon humans and the broader ecology, of drugs in our water.

I’ll share more from Phillips, other researchers, and regulators in upcoming articles. In conducting research, I’ve come across numerous links which are invaluable in shedding light on this issue:

AP Site: Drugs in the Drinking Water
Exhaustive research conducted a few years ago by the Associated Press that brought much-needed attention to the issue of drug compound residues in drinking water.

USGS Report on Pharmaceutical Facilities as Sources of APIs to Wastewater Treatment Plants

USGS on Emerging Contaminants in the Environment

USGS FAQ’s on Pharma Facilities as Sources of Pollutants

SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) Pharmaceuticals Advisory Group

EPA Site on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Water

FAQ’s from EPA: What’s the Real Concern?

Current EPA Research Areas on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment

EEA Technical Report No. 1/2010: Pharmaceuticals in the Environment

--Paul Thomas


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