January 26, 2009
Pharmaceutical Waste Found In India’s Streams
Researchers in India made a surprising discovery when they tested samples of water from a stream where about 90 drug companies get rid of their waste.
The vials revealed shocking levels of antibiotics "“ about enough in the entire stream to treat 90,000 people. Researchers noted the presence of 21 different drugs, which range in purpose from hypertension to depression.Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers told the Associated Press, which last year reported on the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water being provided to at least 46 million Americans. But researchers say the water being analyzed in India contains 150 times even the highest levels of pharmaceuticals found by AP in the US.
India is one of the world's leading exporters of pharmaceuticals, and the US - which spent $1.4 billion on Indian-made drugs in 2007 - is its largest customer, said the news agency.
"If you take a bath there, then you have all the antibiotics you need for treatment," chemist Klaus Kuemmerer at the University of Freiburg Medical Center in Germany, an expert on drug resistance in the environment who did not participate in the research told the AP. "If you just swallow a few gasps of water, you're treated for everything. The question is for how long?"
Joakim Larsson, an environmental scientist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, studied levels of pharmaceuticals in the stream near Patancheru Enviro Tech Ltd. Researchers had previously attributed high levels of drugs in water to their use rather than manufacturing.
"Who has a responsibility for a polluted environment when the Third World produces drugs for our well being?" Larsson asked scientists at a recent environmental research conference.
In its report last year, the AP found that "human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain pharmaceuticals."
Researchers in India noted that tadpoles that were exposed to water from the plant were 40 percent smaller than those living in clean water.
"We don't have any other source, so we're drinking it," said R. Durgamma, a mother of four who lives a few miles downstream from the plant.
"When the local leaders come, we offer them water and they won't take it," she said.
Larsson's team also discovered high levels of pharmaceuticals in lakes upstream from the treatment plant, which could suggest potential illegal dumping.
"I'll tell you, I've never seen concentrations this high before. And they definitely ... are having some biological impact, at least in the effluent," Dan Schlenk, an ecotoxicologist from the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the India research, told the AP.
But M. Narayana Reddy, president of India's Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association, says he challenges researchers' findings.
"It is the wrong information provided by some research person."
Reddy blames untreated human excrement and past industry abuses.
But Larsson's findings could spell out more future trouble because continued exposure to drugs could lead to the mutation of bacteria, making them more resistant to powerful treatments. In recent years, many bacteria have developed resistance to the drug, leaving it significantly less effective.
"We are using these drugs, and the disease is not being cured - there is resistance going on there," said Dr. A. Kishan Rao, a medical doctor and environmental activist who has treated people for more than 30 years near the drug factories.
Dr. Rao called it "a global concern."
And the consequences could be even worse for the environment, Renee Sharp, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, told the AP.
"People might say, 'Oh sure, that's just a dirty river in India,' but we live on a small planet, everything is connected. The water in a river in India could be the rain coming down in your town in a few weeks," she said.
On the Net: