by Mike Adams
the Health Ranger
July 29, 2010
The President's Cancer Panel
(PCP) recently released its
yearly report to the President
outlining the status of cancer in America.
This year's report focuses primarily on
environmental factors that contribute to cancer risk. According to
the report, pharmaceutical drugs are a serious environmental
pollutant, particularly in the way they continue to contaminate
waterways across the country (and the world).
Many reports have recently appeared about pharmaceutical
contamination of water supplies, rivers, lakes and other waterways,
but spokespersons from the drug and chemical industries have denied
that this pollution poses any risk whatsoever to the environment.
But this report, issued directly from
PCP, provides a stunning indictment of the dangers associated with
The executive summary of the PCP report includes the following
"[P]harmaceuticals have become a
considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all
types enter the water supply when they are excreted or
improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure
to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown."
It's important to note that PCP is
required by law to assess the National Cancer Program and offer a
truthful evaluation of the various things it finds to be responsible
for causing cancer.
The panel is a division of the National
Cancer Institute itself, so its findings hold fairly considerable
weight in the scientific world (or they should, if the reaction
wasn't so politicized).
The report itself is quite extensive, evaluating everything from the
environmental and health impacts of drug and pesticide pollution to
cell phone radiation and nuclear testing residue.
But the section on pharmaceutical drugs
is especially interesting when considering the fact that numerous
reports have shown that drugs and drug residue that ends up in water
supplies typically isn't filtered out by municipal treatment plants.
No laws exist
to protect the public from pharmaceuticals
Many chemicals are highly regulated because they are known to
negatively affect human and environmental health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection
is tasked with regulating exposure to these chemicals, but
pharmaceuticals are not included in its regulatory scheme. Despite
years of prodding by environmental scientists, the EPA has given
very little attention to the dangers posed by widespread
a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study
conducted back in 2002, antidepressants, blood pressure and diabetes
medications, anticonvulsants, oral contraceptives, hormone
replacement therapy drugs, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, heart
medications and even codeine are all showing up in the water
supplies of American cities.
This study was the first
national-scale evaluation of pharmaceutical drug contamination
in streams, and roughly 80 percent of the streams tested were found
to be contaminated as well.
In 2008, an
AP investigation found that at
least 46 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with
trace amounts of pharmaceuticals.
Even though every city tested has its
water treated and "purified" prior to being delivered to the public,
trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs are making their way through
to the tap. (Since not all major metropolitan areas were tested, the
number of people affected is likely far higher than what was
reported by AP.)
In spite of all this, water quality reports don't disclose the
levels of pharmaceuticals found in tap water.
Since the EPA and FDA have failed to
establish any proper guidelines for drug contamination in water,
most people have no idea that their water contains a dangerous
cocktail of prescription medications.
consumers and drug companies are all responsible
None of this is surprising if you consider that unused and expired
drugs cannot be legally returned to the pharmacies where they were
Many people just flush them down the
toilet because the drug labels actually encourage patients to
dispose of them this way (and they probably don't know what else to
do with them).
People who take prescription and over-the-counter drugs will excrete
them as well, contributing to the drug overload being found at
wastewater treatment plants. (Drugs are not necessarily "broken
down" by your digestive system.)
It is also regular protocol for hospitals to flush millions of
pounds of unused medications every year, a practice that contributes
significantly to water contamination.
And let's not forget the drug companies that dump large amounts of
their own pharmaceuticals into water supplies. The same AP
investigation found that more than 270 million pounds of
pharmaceutical compound residue is dumped every year into waterways
nationwide, many of which serve as drinking water for millions of
The U.S. isn't the only place where
Big Pharma is dumping its waste,
either. In 2009, researchers found that
India's rivers are full of dangerous
One Indian river where 90 different pharmaceutical companies dump
their waste tested positive for over 21 active drug ingredients. In
one river alone, there was enough ciprofloxacin (a strong
antibiotic) being dumped every day by drug companies to treat 90,000
people! (And scientists detected this in water that was supposedly
purified by the drug companies before being released into the
The drug contamination levels found in India's rivers were 150 times
the detected levels found in the U.S. These findings prove that drug
companies couldn't care less how much drug residue they dump in
water as long as they can get away with it.
They don't even believe that
pharmaceutical contamination is a threat to the environment.
"Based on what we now know, I would
say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in
the environment to human health," explained microbiologist
Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America, in a
Dallas Morning News article
about the AP investigation.
This is similar to BP's CEO saying,
Deepwater Horizon explosion, that
the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico was "tiny"
compared to how big the ocean is.
drug residue cocktails actually do cause harm
Though the chemical and drug industries deny any danger from
exposure to drug residue in the water, science (and common sense)
2006 study conducted by researchers from the
University of Insubria in Italy simulated drug-tainted
water by creating a low-level mixture of various drug residues and
testing it on embryonic cells. They discovered that, even at low
doses, the drug residues actually stopped cells from reproducing.
Even though current water contamination levels are measured in parts
per million or parts per billion, there is no way to know just how
much exposure people are actually experiencing.
People drink contaminated water, shower
in contaminated water and cook with contaminated water, so it's
illogical to suggest that there's no harm being caused by widespread
exposure, even at "low" doses, especially when the exposure is a
combination of dozens of different drugs that have never been tested
People are not the only beings that are affected by pharmaceutical
The world's aquatic ecosystems (and the
plants and animals that belong to them) are all being negatively
being found in fish
According to an
MSNBC report back in 2009, all
kinds of drugs are being found in the bodies of fish near major U.S.
cities. Researchers found drugs for high cholesterol, allergies,
high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression in the livers
and tissue of fish.
Researchers are in agreement that aquatic species of all types are
being harmed by continuous exposure to water contaminated with
pharmaceuticals. Even though wastewater is treated in the U.S.
before entering waterways, most treatment facilities do not have the
proper filtering technology to remove dangerous drug residues from
wastewater before it gets dumped.
Many fish are experiencing reproductive problems as a result of
exposure, as is
explained in a report.
Beyond having their sperm damaged, some fish are actually changing
sexes. Males are becoming females and females are becoming males as
a result of drug exposure in the water. Other water creatures are
experiencing things like organ failure and the inability to grow.
It makes a reasonable person ask,
"How long until these effects
start to hit humans?"
Or have they already?
"We have no reason to think that
this is a unique situation. We find pretty much anywhere we
look, these compounds are ubiquitous," explained Erik Orsak, an
environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, in response to the findings.
And it's not just near American cities
where fish are turning up with all kinds of drugs in their bodies.
As of 2008, more than 100 different
pharmaceutical compounds have been detected around the world,
affecting fish and wildlife everywhere. These are chemicals that
simply do not belong in our environment.
And yet they are there, dumped into our
waters by the pharmaceutical industry and its hospitals, pharmacies
Why we need
more research on the toxicity of pharmaceutical contaminants
Many animal studies have been or are being conducted on
pharmaceutical exposure, and they are indicating that these drugs
are causing widespread harm. But very few official human trials have
been conducted, prompting many to push for increased efforts.
If drug residue is building up in animals and wildlife, then of
course it's building up in humans as well, posing the risk of
Reproductive failure, thyroid
dysfunction, cancer, osteoporosis - all of these diseases and more
may be caused, at least in part, by prolonged exposure to low levels
of all sorts of drugs in the water supply.
pushing for drug waste legislation
Because the truth about drug contamination in water is no longer a
secret, many states have begun enacting legislation to regulate drug
Last August, Illinois passed the
Safe Pharmaceuticals Disposal Act,
which restricts hospitals from flushing drugs down the drain.
California has a similar law in place, and New York is working on
one as well, according to
a recent report.
The same report indicates that there have been five bills introduced
to regulate drugs at the federal level. While this addresses the
hospital waste problem, there's still the human and drug company
No matter how you look at it,
pharmaceutical drugs are going to continue making their way into the
water supplies because they will pass through the bodies of
must be held responsible for their wastewater
Since it's already been revealed that drug companies are failing to
properly treat their wastewater before dumping it into rivers (even
though they claim to be treating it), U.S. regulatory agencies need
to step up and correct the problem.
Regular monitoring of wastewater
contaminant levels is the only way to halt the chemical
contamination of waterways. And if U.S. companies are polluting
water supplies in other countries (such as India), they should be
held accountable for their actions.
There's no excuse for U.S. companies to
pollute anywhere in the world just because they're operating outside
treatment plants should be retrofitted
State and local legislators would do well to put forth their own
legislation to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities so they can
properly filter out pharmaceuticals (and dispose of them safely).
Since there's no way to stop human
elimination of pharmaceuticals (apart from slowly educating the
masses to stop swallowing dangerous pharmaceuticals), municipalities
need to do their part to prevent these dangerous toxins from getting
into water supplies in the first place.
Together, these measures would help to drastically reduce the amount
of pharmaceutical waste entering our environment.
The careless disposal of toxic pharmaceuticals is proving to be
highly destructive, despite reassurances by some that it's not that
big of a deal. The health of the planet and all of its amazing
biodiversity is now threatened by the steady poisoning of toxic
And it's not just pharmaceuticals, either.
Chemical byproducts and waste from many
different industries are polluting our environment at unprecedented
rates. Mercury (from dental fillings),
fluoride (dripped into the public
water supply on purpose, if you can believe that!), and all sorts of
other chemicals and heavy metals are showing up in food, water and
the global environment.
Haven't we poisoned our planet enough already?
Plants, animals and even humans can only take so much of this.
That's why we need to keep fighting against the corporations that
are causing this harm and force them to stop destroying the world in
which we hope to raise our children.
After all, if we keep poisoning the planet at this rate, there won't
be much left to offer future generations except a toxic stew of
patent-protected chemicals that all the corporations pretend pose no
problem at all.