As if perchlorate in tap water weren't disconcerting enough, now the AP has expanded its report on the presence of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals are flushed by hospitals and long-term care facilities in the US. The data is part of an ongoing AP investigation.
There is evidence of pharmaceutical residue in water harming fish and frogs, according to the article, and research has shown that human cells don't grow properly when exposed to certain drugs.
Why, you ask, are otherwise responsible health care providers contaminating our drinking water? The medications are expired, spoiled or unneeded, and dumping them down the drain--or flushing them down the toilet in the case of pills--is common practice.
And they aren't violating any laws.
But when you have 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care homes disposing of meds in the same way, the numbers add up. The AP investigation has established that minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water supply is affecting at least 46 million Americans.
But what are the alternatives?
Some waste is incinerated, and some is sent to landfills (where is eventually seeps into the water supply).
Now, according to the article, the EPA is considering whether to impose the first national standard for how much drug waste may be released into waterways by the medical services industry.
The article says environmental professionals outside government are reaching a consensus that incinerators are the best disposal method. (Though there is added irony; years ago hospitals stopped the practice of tossing drug waste into the trash, which was ultimately incinerated, due to air pollution concerns.)
Regarding incineration, industrial engineer Laura Brannen, an executive at Waste Management Healthcare Solutions, says in the article: "That's the best practice for today because we don't really know what the hell to do with the stuff."
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