Pharmaceuticals in Water
Source of pharmaceuticals in streams
In a 2004 to 2009 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study, scientists found that pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities can be a significant source of pharmaceuticals to the environment. Effluents from two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) that receive discharge from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities (PMFs) had 10 to 1,000 times higher concentrations of pharmaceuticals than effluents from 24 WWTPs across the nation that do not receive PMF discharge. The release waters from these two WWTPs were discharged to streams where the measured pharmaceuticals were traced downstream, and as far as 30 kilometers from one plant's outfall.
The source of pharmaceuticals in water is not just from manufacturing plants. You probably know that antibiotics and drugs are used in the livestock industry, and for streams receiving runoff from animal-feeding operations, pharmaceuticals such as acetaminophen, caffeine, cotinine, diphenhydramine, and carbamazepine, have been found in USGS studies. Another source of pharmaceuticals in stream water is you and me. Essentially, drugs that people take internally are not all metabolized in the body, and the excess ends up in our wastewater leaving homes and entering the sewage-treatment plants. It might sound surprising that these drugs could be detected in streams miles downstream from wastewater-treatment plants, but many plants do not routinely remove pharmaceuticals from water.
The Flow of Pharmaceuticals
Many of the more than 4,000 prescription medications used for human and animal health ultimately find their way into the environment. They can pollute directly from pharmaceutical manufacturing plants or from humans and animals. As these chemicals make their way into terrestrial and aquatic environments, they can affect the health and behavior of wildlife, including insects, fish, birds, and more.
Credit: Al Granberg