[Pharmwaste] second AP story, senate hearing - two stories
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Tue Mar 11 09:16:13 EDT 2008
Here's the second part of the AP story - I noticed our local paper ran an
abridged version. Once again there are too many related stories to send them
all out to you. Please check out Environmental Health News at
http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ or search through Google News (or
your favorite news site). I have pasted two stories in this email.
Mutated fish swimming in tainted water
Pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies hurting surrounding wildlife
By Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard
On this brisk, glittering morning, a flat-bottomed boat glides across the
massive reservoir that provides Las Vegas its drinking water. An ominous
rumble growls beneath the craft as its two long, electrified claws extend
into the depths.
Moments later, dozens of stunned fish float to the surface.
Federal scientists scoop them up and transfer them into 50-quart Coleman ice
chests for transport to a makeshift lab on the dusty lakeshore. Within the
hour, the researchers will club the seven-pound common carps to death, draw
their blood, snip out their gonads and pack them in aluminum foil and dry
The specimens will be flown across the country to laboratories where aquatic
toxicologists are studying what happens to fish that live in water
contaminated with at least 13 different medications - from over-the-counter
pain killers to prescription antibiotics and mood stabilizers.
More often than not these days, the laboratory tests bring unwelcome results.
A five-month Associated Press investigation has determined that trace amounts
of many of the pharmaceuticals we take to stay healthy are seeping into
drinking water supplies, and a growing body of research indicates that this
could harm humans.
But people aren't the only ones who consume that water. There is more and
more evidence that some animals that live in or drink from streams and lakes
are seriously affected.
Severe reproductive problems
Pharmaceuticals in the water are being blamed for severe reproductive
problems in many types of fish: The endangered razorback sucker and male
fathead minnow have been found with lower sperm counts and damaged sperm;
some walleyes and male carp have become what are called feminized fish,
producing egg yolk proteins typically made only by females.
Meanwhile, female fish have developed male genital organs. Also, there are
skewed sex ratios in some aquatic populations, and sexually abnormal bass
that produce cells for both sperm and eggs.
There are problems with other wildlife as well: kidney failure in vultures,
impaired reproduction in mussels, inhibited growth in algae.
"We have no reason to think that this is a unique situation," says Erik
Orsak, an environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, pulling off rubber gloves splattered with fish blood at
Lake Mead. "We find pretty much anywhere we look, these compounds are
In a broad study still under way, fish collected in waterways near or in
Chicago; West Chester, Pa.; Orlando; Dallas; and Phoenix have tested positive
for an array of pharmaceuticals - analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants,
antihistamines, anti-hypertension drugs and anti-seizure medications.
That research follows a 2003 study in northern Texas, where every bluegill,
black crappie and channel catfish researchers caught living downstream of a
wastewater treatment plant tested positive for the active ingredients in two
widely used antidepressants - one of the first times the residues of such
drugs were detected in wildlife.
In several recent studies of soil fertilized with livestock manure or with
the sludge product from wastewater treatment plants, American scientists
found earthworms had accumulated those same compounds, while vegetables -
including corn, lettuce and potatoes - had absorbed antibiotics. "These
results raise potential human health concerns," wrote researchers.
Blood and liver samples of bull sharks in Florida's Caloosahatchee River, a
nursery area for juvenile bullsharks and home to six wastewater treatment
plants, are being tested for the presence of an array of medications this
winter. Of the first ten sharks sampled, nine tested positive for the active
ingredient in an antidepressant.
And in Colorado's Boulder Creek, 50 of the 60 white suckers collected
downstream of Boulder's wastewater treatment plant were female, compared to
about half of them upstream.
Elsewhere in the world - from the icy streams of England to the wild game
reserves of South Africa - snails, fish, even antelope, are showing signs of
possible pharmaceutical contamination. For example, fish and prawn in China
exposed to treated wastewater had shortened life spans, Pacific oysters off
the coast of Singapore had inhibited growth, and in Norway, Atlantic salmon
exposed to levels of estrogen similar to those found in the North Sea had
severe reproductive problems.
More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in surface waters
throughout the world.
"It's inescapable," said Sudeep Chandra, an assistant professor at University
of Nevada, Reno who studies inland waters and aquatic life. "There's enough
global information now to confirm these contaminants are affecting organisms
While some researchers have captured wildlife and tested it for
pharmaceuticals, many more have brought wildlife into their laboratories and
exposed them to traces of human pharmaceuticals at levels similar to those
found in water, aquatic plants and animals.
The results have been troubling.
Freshwater mussels exposed to tiny amounts of an antidepressant's active
ingredient released premature larvae, giving the next generation lower odds
of survival; in a separate lab study, the antidepressant also stunted
reproduction in tiny fresh water mud snails.
When researchers slid hydras - a tiny polyp that under a microscope looks
like a slender jellyfish - into water tainted with minute amounts of
pharmaceuticals, their mouths, feet and tentacles stopped growing. While the
hydras are minuscule, the implications are grave: Chronic exposure to trace
levels of commonly found pharmaceuticals can damage a species at the
foundation of a food pyramid.
Tiny zooplankton, another sentinel species, died off in the lab when they
were exposed to extremely small amounts of a common drug used to treat humans
suffering from internal worms and other digesting parasites.
In a landmark, seven-year study published last year, researchers turned an
entire pristine Canadian lake into their laboratory, deliberately dripping
the active ingredient in birth control pills into the water in amounts
similar to those found to have contaminated aquatic life, plants and water in
After just seven weeks, male fathead minnows began producing yolk proteins,
their gonads shrank, and their behavior was feminized - they fought less,
floating passively. They also stopped reproducing, resulting in "ultimately,
a near extinction of this species from the lake," said the scientists.
While the Canadian study was prompted by human intervention, similar die-offs
have occurred in the wild.
Kidney failure in vultures
In Pakistan, the entire population of a common vulture virtually disappeared
after the birds began eating carcasses of cows that had been treated with an
anti-inflammatory drug. Scientists, in a 2004 study, said they eventually
determined that the birds' kidneys were failing.
"The death of those vultures - the fact that you could get a complete
collapse of a population due to pharmaceuticals in the environment - that was
a powerful thing," said Christian Daughton, an EPA researcher in Las Vegas.
"It was a major ecological catastrophe."
In November, at the annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
meeting in Milwaukee, 30 new studies related to pharmaceuticals in the
environment were presented - hormones found in the Chicago River;
abnormalities in Japanese zebra fish; ibuprofen, gemfibrozil, triclosan and
naproxen in the lower Great Lakes.
Many of those studies refer to the heralded research at Lake Mead. There, on
a recent morning, Steven Goodbred struggled to hold a large wriggling carp
with both hands. On the outside, the carp looked fine, vibrant and strong,
but the U.S. Geological Survey scientist assumed the worst.
"Typically we see low levels of sex steroids, limited testicular function,
low sperm count, that kind of thing," he said slipping the fish into a
holding tank and closing the lid. "We'll have to wait and see about this
These carp live, eat, reproduce and die at the mouth of what amounts to a
30-mile-long drainage system that starts within the toilets and sinks of the
casinos, hotels and homes of Sin City.
Some 180 million gallons of effluent are discharged into the channel each day
from three wastewater treatment plants. The daily sewage discharge is
expected to increase to 400 million gallons a day by 2050.
The USGS and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service tracked the channel from its
origins, before the inflow from the sewage plants, to where it empties into
Las Vegas Bay in the lake. Their findings: The amount of endocrine-disrupting
compounds (including hormone treatments and other chemicals affecting
reproduction) increased more than 646 times.
Not far from the mouth of the drainage channel - amid the fishing boats and
sightseeing tours - water is sucked into a long pipe, destined for a drinking
water treatment plant, then Las Vegas - thus beginning the cycle all over
'Fortuitous worst-case scenario'
Other communities in Nevada, as well as locales in California and Arizona,
also draw on Lake Mead.
"Lake Mead is a fortuitous worst-case scenario" for study, said environmental
toxicologist Greg Moller, holding a bottle of Lake Mead water he planned to
take back to his lab at the University of Idaho. "You've got the wastewater,
you've got the documented impact on wildlife, and you have drinking water
Although more than eight million tourists, including 500,000 anglers, visit
the reservoir annually, there are no warnings about the contaminants. No
signs. No advisories.
That's not unusual. Scientists have been finding pharmaceuticals in hundreds
of other public waterways across the nation and throughout the world - almost
always without public fanfare, as documented in the AP investigation.
At the same time, scientists are looking for remedies. In Las Vegas, just off
the Strip at the Desert Research Institute, microbial biologist Duane Moser
optimistically held a tray of increasingly murky test tubes.
"We put a little bit of estrogen in here, and then we added a particular
bacteria, and guess what? The bacteria are consuming the estrogen," he said.
Someday, perhaps, scientists will be able to use these special bacteria to
clean estrogen out of contaminated water.
"It's early, but it's promising," he said.
AP Water Probe Prompts Senate Hearings
By MARTHA MENDOZA - 5 hours ago
Two veteran U.S. senators said they plan to hold hearings in response to an
Associated Press investigation into the presence of trace amounts of
pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million
Also, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., has asked the EPA to establish a
national task force to investigate the issue and make recommendations to
Congress on any legislative actions needed.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chairman of the Transportation, Safety,
Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee, said Monday the
oversight hearings would likely be held in April.
Boxer, D-Calif., said she was "alarmed at the news" that pharmaceuticals are
turning up in the nation's drinking water, while Lautenberg, a New Jersey
Democrat who said he was "deeply concerned" by the AP findings, both
represent states where pharmaceuticals had been detected in drinking water
supplies, but not disclosed to the public.
"I call on the EPA to take whatever steps are necessary to keep our
communities safe," said Boxer in a statement.
Added Lautenberg, whose subcommittee has jurisdiction over drinking water
issues: "Our families deserve water that is clean and safe. Our hearing will
examine these problems and help ensure the EPA and Congress take the steps
necessary to protect our residents and clean up our water supply."
EPA spokesman Timothy Lyons said the agency is "committed to keeping the
nation's water supply clean, safe and the best in the world. We encourage all
Americans to be responsible when disposing of prescription drugs."
The Lautenberg-Boxer announcement came just 24 hours after the AP's release
of the first installment of its three-part series, titled PharmaWater.
The five-month-long inquiry by the AP National Investigative Team found that
while water is screened for drugs by some suppliers, they usually don't tell
their customers that they have found medication in it, including antibiotics,
anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.
The series shows how drugs - mostly the residue of medications taken by
people, excreted and flushed down the toilet - have gotten into the water
supplies of at least 24 major metropolitan areas, from Southern California to
northern New Jersey. The stories also detail the growing concerns among
scientists that this pollution has adversely affected wildlife, and may
threaten human health.
In a letter to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, Schwartz said, "Like many
Pennsylvanians, I was especially taken aback by the finding of 56 different
pharmaceuticals discovered in the drinking water for the City of
Philadelphia.. . . The Associated Press report raises serious questions about
the safety and security of America's water system."
Laurie J. Tenace
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road, MS 4555
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2400
PH: (850) 245-8759
FAX: (850) 245-8811
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
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