The millions of doses of prescription drugs that Americans swallow annually to combat cancer, pain, depression and other ailments do not disappear harmlessly into their digestive systems, researchers have determined, but instead make their way back into the environment where they may contaminate drinking water and pose a threat to aquatic wildlife.
With this in mind, environmental engineers at The Johns Hopkins University have launched an ambitious research program aimed at identifying the scope of the nations prescription drug pollution problems. The researchers recently received a three-year $525,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to study pharmaceuticals and antiseptics in drinking water, sewage treatment plants and coastal waters. During an April 10 session at the 223rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orlando, Fla., members of the Johns Hopkins team will unveil two new scientific tools to aid in the investigation of prescription drug pollution. One is a survey of the estimated environmental concentration of the 200 drugs that are prescribed and sold most often. The other is a new, highly sensitive lab test that can detect a minute amount of several prescription drugs in water samples.
Being able to track these drugs is important because many prescription medicines consumed by Americans are not rendered biologically harmless when they pass through the body, Johns Hopkins researchers say. Conventional sewage treatment systems may not remove them, and unused drugs may be flushed down the toilet or thrown into the trash, ultimately ending up in groundwater or surface water, where they may affect aquatic life and drinking water quality.
This is an important new research area, says A. Lynn Roberts, who heads the Johns Hopkins team. Over the past few years, scientists in Europe have found pharmaceuticals in natural waterways, sewage treatment effluents and even in drinking water. Yet until this year there hav
Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University