You can tell when a press release goes out on something, when several articles on the same subject appear in the Bay news feed on the same day: Nature World News, Worrying Amounts of Drug Traces Leaked by Sewage Pipes Found in Chesapeake Bay, Greenwire, Leaky sewer lines dump pharmaceuticals into Chesapeake Bay Faulty and Gizmodo, The Chesapeake Bay Is Awash in Drugs. Even Insty saw it! From Gizmodo:
The study, conducted by scientists with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology on Wednesday, found that tens of thousands of doses of pharmaceuticals are flowing into the bay every year. They include everything from over-the-counter pain medicine to prescription antidepressants
For the study, the researchers sampled water from six different sites in one Baltimore watershed every week for one year. They then sent the samples to a chemist in Sweden to look for 92 pharmaceutical chemical compounds from eight different medications prescribed for infections, mood disorders, and other ailments. The compounds fell into 9 common classes of drugs: adrenergics (prescribed for asthma and other cardiovascular and respiratory issues), antibiotics, antidepressants, antiepileptics, antifungals, antihypertensives, urologicals, and painkillers separated into two categories, non-opioid and opioid analgesics. The authors found that all of these were present in varying degrees.
The highest concentrations they found were of non-opioid analgesics like Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. Based on their samples, the researchers estimated that 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of these drugs enter the Chesapeake Bay from the Gwynns Falls watershed every year. That’s the equivalent of 30,000 tablets of acetaminophen.
But the most commonly found drug in their samples were antibiotics, especially trimethoprim, which is prescribed for kidney infections and urinary tract infections.
“We found [trimethoprim] in 137 out of 371 total samples,” Megan Fork, a postdoctoral research associate at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies who led the study, said. “We think this is because people pop a Tylenol so often when they have a headache, so the amount of doses people use is so much higher ... but when people take the antibiotics, which is less often, less of it can be removed by wastewater treatment plants.”
Lots of previous research has shown that both legal and illicit drugs enter waterways through wastewater treatment plants. When we consume drugs, whatever we do not metabolize passes into our pee, and sewage treatment plants aren’t designed to filter those trace amounts of drugs out.
This study was different, though: None of the sites that the researchers sampled had any direct wastewater from sewage treatment plants coming into them. They must have entered through a different source.
The authors can’t be completely sure exactly how the drugs got into the water stream. AJ Reisinger, an ecologist at the University of Florida who worked on the study, said some of the drugs could have gotten dumped into sinks or storm drains. Some could have also made it to the bay by people merely tossing away drugs in the street.
“People shouldn’t do this for environmental reasons, but people probably do,” he said.
Yet by far the most likely source of this pollution, Reisinger said, is the aging sewage system.
“We think the most likely source is from leaky sewage infrastructure,” he said. “Just because there’s not any wastewater effluent from treatment plants doesn’t mean there’s not sewage directly coming in from broken pipes.”
There's a saying in toxicity, going back to Paracelsus, who said "the dose makes the poison." And, like Baltimore, he was concerned with poisons (like arsenic and mercury) being used as medicines. These drugs are being diluted extensively by natural runoff, and other human inputs, so the dose is a tiny fraction of the dose necessary for pharmaceutical effects, at least in humans, and probably in a majority of other potential target organisms too. The fact that they can measure them at all is a testament to our advanced analytical methods, and not proof that they constitute an existential threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, we know the nutrients and pathogens in sewage constitute two of the most severe threats to the Bay.
Insty is right, WE NEED BETTER SEWAGE TREATMENT AND HANDLING, I GUESS. Yep, for sure. It's Baltimore's shit, and they should be responsible for cleaning it up.