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Volume 15, Issue 41 ~ October 11 - October 17, 2007

Where We Live
by Steve Carr

What’s in Your Water?

What nobody knows can’t hurt you

First, we start with tons and tons of Prozac, along with all of the other jim-dandy anti-depressants on the market today. Then we mix in an unhealthy dose of Ritalin, birth control and antibiotics. To this noxious brew, we add copious amounts of Viagra, the little purple pill, pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and laxatives. Flush this toxic mix down the toilet, along with all of the outdated prescription drugs in our bathrooms, and what do we have? Our drinking water.

That’s right. What goes into our drinking water stays in our drinking water.

Every time we use the toilet, our bodies expel measurable amounts of whatever we have put into our systems that day. Many of the ingredients in the pills we consume like candy are not entirely processed; they are simply, and literally, pissed away. Pharmaceutical companies know this, and that’s why they ramp up the dosage. That’s why, for instance, you get 300 percent of the recommended daily dosage of Riboflavin or B12 when you take your daily vitamin.

No problem, right, because this toxic brew is filtered out at the water treatment plant? Wrong.

There are no filters for these chemicals. They are not even monitored.

When you hear about how badly Chesapeake Bay is polluted, the scientists and experts are essentially talking about two ingredients: nitrogen and phosphorous. That’s it. At this point, the chemical cocktail coming through the pipes from every household on public water and sewer is completely off the radar screen.

What health threat, if any, might such a chemical concoction pose for humans and the rest of the animal community? No one knows. Few are even studying the problem.

To complicate matters, farm animals are also being loaded up with all sorts of antibiotics and growth hormones that end up going directly into the nearest body of water. Add to this mess the myriad personal care products we rub into our bodies — cosmetics, lotions, sunscreens, bug sprays — and you have a recipe for disaster. We don’t even begin to know the health risk posed by this lengthy list of manmade products, and we know even less about what sorts of threats may ensue after they get mixed together in the nation’s water supply. Mix Backwoods Off with the latest cholesterol drug and what do you get? Who knows?

It All Comes Down to Money

It wasn’t until we started seeing mutated crabs, amphibians magically changing sex and rockfish with weird appendages that the scientific world wondered whether there might be a connection between the unseen chemicals in our rivers and what is looking like a planetary-wide genetic problem with many aquatic species.

Back in 2000, the United States Geological Survey took water samples in 139 streams in 30 states, including Maryland. In over 80 percent of the water samples, they found significant traces of at least one pharmaceutical product. Over 10 percent had more than 20 contaminants.

Many of the chemicals discovered in our waterways have been studied for years and discovered to be endocrine disrupters, which can wreak havoc on the immune system and hormonal balance of many aquatic species.

Isn’t it ironic that after spending so much money studying the environmental problems of the Chesapeake Bay for so long, no one has the foggiest idea what all these modern-day chemical wonders are doing to the health of fish and humans? Scientists can tell us exactly how much nitrogen is flowing out of the South River, but they can’t tell us why some of the catfish in Crab Creek look like something out of a science-fiction movie.

Why do we continue to ignore this health and safety issue? Why does the EPA not require wastewater treatment plants to test for these pharmaceutical time bombs? And why are there no guidelines for acceptable levels of these chemicals in our drinking water?

In the end, it comes down to money. Companies make millions off of these products, whereas monitoring every water plant and waterway would cost billions. Developing filters capable of removing these chemicals could cost trillions. Government simply does not have the money.

Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Helfrich offers this ominous warning, “Right now, no one’s paying attention to this chemical contamination, but this is a problem that will not go away.”


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