Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Prescription Drug Pollution May Harm Humans, Aquatic Life

Date:
April 11, 2002
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
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.

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.

Related Articles


With this in mind, environmental engineers at The Johns Hopkins University have launched an ambitious research program aimed at identifying the scope of the nation’s 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 have been virtually no scientific studies examining this issue in the United States. It’s important that we begin to look at this because there are many ways in which pharmaceuticals in the environment could produce undesirable effects on aquatic organisms or even humans.”

As an example, Roberts, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, pointed out that popular antidepressants work by altering levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. But serotonin also causes many aquatic creatures to spawn. As a result, pharmaceuticals in the wild could upset natural breeding cycles. In humans, pregnant women are warned not to consume medications that could harm their developing fetus. But what if small amounts of these drugs are present in drinking water? “Pharmaceuticals have high biological activity,” Roberts says. “We may be able to tolerate them for a short period of time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hurt us–or developing fetuses or aquatic organisms–at higher concentrations or over a long period of time.”

At the American Chemical Society meeting, two members of Roberts’ team will make public some early steps in the effort to determine which pharmaceuticals are escaping into the environment and how much is present. Padma Venkatraman, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins, will present estimates of probable environmental concentrations of the 200 most frequently sold and prescribed drugs. She has concluded that anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, anti-cancer drugs and anti-microbials are among the pharmaceuticals most likely to be found at “toxicologically significant levels” in the environment. “We're trying to make an intelligent guess as to what's out there in the environment and what's probably toxic," Venkatraman says. “We certainly don't have any evidence that most pharmaceuticals pose a human health risk, although the presence of carcinogens or teratogens even at low concentrations is of potential human health concern.”

Also at the meeting, Michael L. Blumenfeld, a 22-year-old Johns Hopkins undergraduate from Timonium, Md., will present a new method of detecting tiny amounts of several drugs in natural waters, using a lab technique called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The test is so sensitive it can detect a gram of pharmaceutical in more than 1 billion liters of water. Blumenfeld’s test, developed in collaboration with Roberts and Venkatraman, will allow researchers in academic labs to test for the presence of particular drugs that may pose a problem in the environment. Blumenfeld, a senior majoring in chemistry, received financial support through a Johns Hopkins Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award.

As the project continues, Johns Hopkins researchers plan to test water before and after it emerges from drinking water treatment plants to determine how effectively pharmaceuticals are being removed. Team members will also conduct tests to see how well pharmaceuticals are being removed at sewage treatment plants in Massachusetts and Maryland. They will also collect samples in the environmentally sensitive upper Chesapeake Bay to check for the presence and concentration of drugs and antiseptics. The researchers will try to determine how efficiently nature’s self-cleansing processes eliminate these man-made pollutants.

Related Links:

A. Lynn Roberts Web Page:http://www.jhu.edu/~dogee/people/faculty/roberts.html

Padma Venkatraman’s Web Page:http://www.jhu.edu/~dogee/roberts/padma_tv.htm

Michael Blumenfeld’s Web Page:http://www.jhu.edu/~dogee/roberts/mike_blumenfeld.htm

Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering:http://www.jhu.edu/~dogee


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "Prescription Drug Pollution May Harm Humans, Aquatic Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/04/020411072306.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2002, April 11). Prescription Drug Pollution May Harm Humans, Aquatic Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/04/020411072306.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "Prescription Drug Pollution May Harm Humans, Aquatic Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/04/020411072306.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) Need another reason to eat yogurt every day? Researchers now say it could reduce a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Madagascar Working to Contain Plague Outbreak

Madagascar Working to Contain Plague Outbreak

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) Madagascar said Monday it is trying to contain an outbreak of plague -- similar to the Black Death that swept Medieval Europe -- that has killed 40 people and is spreading to the capital Antananarivo. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins