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A new study has found traces of the widely used metformin diabetes drug and other medicines in dozens of streams throughout the Southeastern United States. But the findings suggest the cause was generally unrelated to discharges from wastewater treatment facilities, which are usually considered to be the likeliest source of contaminants.

The survey of 59 streams found an average of six different pharmaceuticals. Besides metformin, which appeared in 89 percent of the samples and 97 percent of the sample sites, researchers found traces of three different pain relievers, including the tramadol opioid painkiller; the carbamazepine anti-seizure drug; and the Allegra antihistamine. These meds were found in 22 percent to 28 percent of the samples.


Moreover, the analysis, which was published in Environmental Science & Technology, detected pharmaceuticals at more than 10 percent of the sample sites at concentrations that would be expected to affect aquatic life. While pharmaceuticals are often detected in bodies of water, the analysis noted that only 17 of the 59 streams in which samples were taken have any reported wastewater discharges.

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  • Not surprising. The widespread practice of spreading “free” sewage sludge on agricultural fields and composting and bagging the stuff to sell to suburbanites puts whole lot of unknown compounds out there to alter the complex community of bacteria, fungi, algae, nematodes, worms, insects, etc.that interact to alter the functions of the soils in which we grow our food or to be ingested by us in our drinking water. As an organic farmer I strive to protect the integrity of our soils by just saying no and carefully studying any amendments (e.g.lime,fertilizers, etc) we might make to our soils. We collect rainwater extensively and although it may contain pollutants from the air at least it doesn’t have pharmaceuticals.

  • All of the cited drugs are widely used generics. Good luck with the drug company take back programs. For example, metformin is a multisource generic, made by at least 60 companies.

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