Here's the fish, and here are the fish on drugs


We are a nation of pill poppers. From statins to lower cholesterol to antidepressants to lift our mood, more than half of Americans are currently taking a prescription drug. Some twenty percent of us are taking three different prescriptions daily.


And these drugs are not entirely absorbed by our bodies. A small amount winds up in our toilets and eventually enters sewers and waterways. And if this were not enough, hospitals, prisons, and long-term care facilities routinely flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals each year.

It is now commonplace to find tiny concentrations of pharmaceuticals our nation’s drinking water, affecting some 46 million Americans. This is because sewage treatment plants have been designed to remove human wastes from water, not drug residues.

Drug residues pass to local waterways in the supposedly “clean” water that is discharged from sewage treatment plants.

We know little about how the mix of pharmaceutical by-products in natural waters might affect us, singly, or in combination, and over the long-term.  But, we do know that these compounds can affect the life in streams.

“The Ethinylestradiol, which is the active ingredient in the pill, when they added it to lakes, they saw a decline in males, and then a decline in fish populations.  So the males were more feminized and then the fish population crashed.”

Emma Rosi-Marshall is an ecologist at the Cary Institute…

“When things are coming out of waste water treatment plants, you have to remember it’s a whole lot of different compounds, and so the effects, I would say the science, we just don’t know yet.”

It’s time to rethink our definition of clean water. What we need is to upgrade sewage treatment plant technology. But in the meantime, please don’t flush your expired drugs. Look up a pharmaceutical take-back program.

Photo: Flickr Golbog

Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on February 14, 2012. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit: www.earthwiseradio.org.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

Privacy Policy Copyright © 2014