Monday, April 20, 2009

Drugs! In our Water!

I ran across this AP News story, about millions of pounds of drugs being released into our water, yesterday on Digg. And then again this morning, on the front page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

I think it's an excellent example of out-of-context fear-mongering. We're living longer, healthier lives and we're safer than we've ever been before, and yet we're constantly bombarded by new things we're supposed to worry about. Last years it was agricultural Armageddon because of Colony Collapse Disorder.

This morning, it's "at least" 271 million pounds of drugs released into our water supplies. Wow, 271 million pounds. That sounds like a lot!

Is it?

If I'm reading the article correctly, that's 271 million pounds over a period of 20 years. We're an awfully big country; 300 million people here, so that's less than a pound per person over 20 years. Or less than an ounce per person per year.

Given the amount of water an average person uses in a year (about 1,400 gallons per person per day), that's the proverbial drop in the bucket.

The article also mentions that:
Two common industrial chemicals that are also pharmaceuticals — the antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide — account for 92 percent of the 271 million pounds identified as coming from drugmakers and other manufacturers. Both can be toxic and both are considered to be ubiquitous in the environment.
Both can be toxic? WATER can be toxic if you drink too much of it!

Sheesh, what next, a hard-hitting AP report on the dangers of DiHydrogen Monoxide?


Anonymous said...

Are you saying colony collapse disorder is not a real concern? You wouldn't say that if you were a farmer/beekeeper and your lively hood depended on bees.

Your math is fuzzy. Those drugs were in no way evenly dispersed amongst all the drinking wells and reservoirs in America, so some people got more. Don't you care what's in the water your kids drink?

Peroxide is not a pollutant? Then how do you feel about carbon dioxide, a gas that plantsneed to survive?

Gavin Andresen said...

Colony Collapse Disorder is certainly a concern if you're a beekeper; I'm saying that the press reports distort and overstate the danger for both CCD and pharmaceuticals in the water.

I have zero concern over trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in my kids' drinking water. Life it too short to worry about very small risks.

I'm much more concerned about bacteria in my drinking water, and am glad that the Amherst public works department tests for that. I think the danger of press reports like the one that inspired this blog post is that we start spending money testing for harmless stuff in our water and end up spending LESS testing for the stuff that can really hurt us.

I have some personal experience with hydrogen peroxide-- I gargled with it (well, a 2.5% solution of it) three times a day for several weeks after I had oral surgery a few years ago.

How do I feel about carbon dioxide?

About the same way I feel about oxygen, I suppose. How SHOULD I feel about carbon dioxide?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that it is not a concern I have with Amherst water, and they should not waste money testing for something that is not harmful. In fact,I wouldn't mind if they put flu vaccine in our drinking water, because we might need some if that swine flu breaks out around here. (LOL). Seriously though, I do believe that most municipal drinking water is excellent, I just filter it for the toxic flouride before I drink it.

Off topic: I heard Al Gore say that carbon dioxide was a dangerous pollutant, and he supports the cap-trade system, which would put a tax on all co2, because it is such a bad gas.