Study finds pharmaceutical residue in treated wastewater, in vegetables irrigated with it, and in humans who consume those vegetables
See if you can find a pattern here. First, traces of prescription drugs were found in treated wastewater. Then, the same traces were found in soil on farmland. Now we know that the vegetables grown on those farms contain pharmaceuticals, too. Most recently of all, people who ate those vegetables tested positive for at least one drug in their urine. What happens when that urine goes back into the wastewater? The whole cycle starts all over again.
How many times the cycle repeats depends, at least partially, on the half-life of the chemical. What these xenobiotics – foreign chemicals in the body – do, exactly, to human bodies in which they have no business being is unknown, as is the number of people who are affected, most unknowingly.
Also quite disturbing is the fact that the xenobiotics have been inside who knows how many other people! This in addition to the separate-but-related issue of microbial organisms in the wastewater, also having come from general populations of healthy and sick people. Thanks, Big Pharma! Thanks, FDA… EPA…
Bad things happen when someone assumes someone else is in charge. That’s why pilots of heavy jets, when turning the controls over to the co-pilot, say, “You’ve got the aircraft.” With the protocol response being, “I’ve got the aircraft.” The FDA, EPA, and USDA have all, so far, assumed that they don’t have the “aircraft.” Big Pharma, as you might guess, doesn’t want responsibility for pharmaceutical pollution (and would rather no one else take a closer look at the problem, for obvious reasons).
Thankfully, other good scientists of conscience are looking closely at the problem. The website Chemical and Engineering News recently ran an article titled “Vegetables grown with treated wastewater boost human exposure to pharmaceutical contaminants.” In it, the site relates results from a randomized controlled trial, published in March 2016, which focused on the anti-epileptic drug carbamazepine.
The study, first published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that – while some participants already had some measurable carbamazepine levels before starting, 100 percent of the volunteers who consumed the vegetables irrigated with wastewater “excreted detectable levels of the drug.” The trial had 34 healthy subjects consume, for one week, either produce grown using the reclaimed water or organic produce grown with freshwater.
Both the hypothesis and the trial design itself (random controlled) are laudable for their integrity. The scientists were pretty sure that if the drug was in the water it would be in the vegetables and, by extension, the people consuming them. The value of having trial-based evidence of it, however, cannot be underestimated, especially when the time comes to push the FDA, EPA, and/or the USDA to do something about it.
In the meantime, another group of dedicated chemists gathered in Berlin recently to discuss the burgeoning business of green pharmaceuticals.
My upcoming novel, DEADLY PRESCRIPTION, is about the unethical, sometimes criminal, activities of a fictionalized Big Pharma. It arrives mid-2016.