Rivers Contamination


Does improper or unsafe disposal of drugs hurt our rivers and streams?

Our rivers and streams are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drug contamination. Aquatic life from the smallest plankton to our largest fish is harmed when exposure is constant and occurs during crucial times of their life cycles. Significant contamination is occurring in over 80 percent of U.S. waterways that have been tested.

What kinds of drugs are in our streams and rivers? What harm do they do?

In 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey identified 100 different pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams. The list includes aspirin, caffeine, codeine, antibiotics and warfarin (a common blood thinner and sometimes a rat poison). They also found antibiotics, drugs used to treat mental illness and nicotine contaminated underground water because they leaked out of our landfills. Antibiotics in the environment are a real problem because bacteria can build up a resistance to them, which makes our medicine to treat infections less effective. Each year, 65,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some of the drugs found in our water are linked to the development of diabetes, breast cancer and kidney problems.

What does the science and research tell us about the drugs in our rivers?

Scientists continue to investigate the environmental and human health consequences of drugs contaminating our rivers. Preliminary research has found that exposure to small amounts of drugs commonly found in our rivers and streams caused indicator species like earthworms and zooplankton to die. Other pharmaceuticals appear to be contributing to an increase in mussel mortality, accelerating reproduction in certain shellfish and stunting the growth of snails. Additionally, the compounds in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can affect the sex characteristics of fish and reduce reproduction.

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