Hospital meds compound contaminant problem

9/23/08

NEW YORK — Pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health services industry are contributing to the problem of trace amounts of drug compounds making their way into drinking water sources, according to an Associated Press (AP) report in the San Francisco Chronicle .

This latest AP report is part of the AP’s pharmaceuticals-in-water investigative series that was first published in March and looked at how most pharmaceutical waste in water sources is unmetabolized medicine that is flushed into sewers and waterways through human excretion. This most recent report examines institutional drug disposal and its dangers. Reported dangers include those to human health; fish, frogs and other aquatic species; and to the environment, including drinking water sources.

The AP reported that few of the nation’s 5,700 hospitals and 45,000 long-term care facilities keep data on the pharmaceutical waste they generate. Based on a small sample, the AP projected an annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds of expired, spoiled, over-prescribed, unneeded or unused pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging, with no way to separate out the drug volume.

According to the AP report, the mix of hospital waste, which is laden with germs, and large quantities of powerful and toxic drugs has the potential to produce virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers.

As an example, the AP reported that at the University of Rouen Medical Center in France, 31 of 38 wastewater samples showed the ability to mutate genes. A Swiss study of hospital wastewater suggested that fluoroquinolone antibiotics also can disfigure bacterial DNA, raising the question of whether such drug concoctions can heighten the risk of cancer in humans.

Pharmacist Boris Jolibois, one of the French researchers at Compiegne Medical Center, said in the AP report that hospitals should act quickly, even before the effects are well understood. “Something should be done now. It’s just common sense,” he said.

To read the full report, click here.

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