The World's Rivers Are Clogged With Pharmaceutical Waste

CC BY 2.0. Eric Norris

Scientists say levels are dangerously high, affecting wildlife and ecosystems.

The next time you feel a headache coming on, take a moment before popping a painkiller and remember this: that drug will persist in the environment long after its traces have left your body. New research from the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education has found high concentrations of pharmaceuticals in river systems around the world. The research was presented to scientists at the European Geosciences Union in Vienna this week. The Guardian reports:

"A large number of drugs – analgesics, antibiotics, anti-platelet agents, hormones, psychiatric drugs, antihistamines – have been found at levels dangerous for wildlife. Endocrine disruptors, for example, have induced sex changes in fish and amphibians."

The problem is that there is no effective way to deal with these trace pharmaceuticals. Large quantities remain in human feces, and only 7 percent gets filtered out by water treatment facilities. Twenty percent is absorbed by ecosystems, and the rest goes out to sea.

As Bregoli says in the Guardian, technology is not the solution; rather, "We need a substantial reduction in consumption." In other words, people need to rely less on drugs to manage their illnesses and pain.

This may sound like a tall order for countless North Americans who consume handfuls of pharmaceuticals on a daily basis in order to get by. The over-medicalization of human health can make dealing with physical ailments holistically seem daunting, but this is yet another reason to take a fresh approach, viewing pharmaceuticals as a last resort, rather than a regular treatment.

This research relates to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, attributed mainly to industrial animal agriculture, which currently uses 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States, and does so because of the atrocious and unnatural conditions in which animals are raised for consumption.

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