Drugs in the Water

When researchers analyzed vials of treated wastewater taken from a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues, they were shocked. Enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.

And it wasn’t just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet — a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Not at all surprising, considering that drug manufacturing releases tons of pollutants at high concentrations. The sources are very different from recent studies in the US where end users of the drug are the greatest source, and ciprofloxacin was again one of the drugs detected at the highest levels. At this rate, most bugs will be resistant to cipro in a few years.

In the end, water treatment plants cannot deal with this toxic soup. They need to be cleaned up at the source, by the pharmaceutical companies before they hit any waste streams. After all, isn’t recapturing and reusing the kilos of drugs being wasted good economic sense?