The statistics aren’t pretty. Water is not only susceptible to contamination by the usual suspects—pesticides, herbicides, flame retardants, industrial and residential runoff, and plastic wastes. It is also highly susceptible to pollution by pharmaceutical drugs not fully metabolized by humans or animals.1
Studies have shown that pharmaceuticals in the environment—including the synthetic estrogen in birth-control pills—can feminize male fish and lead to complete population collapse if exposures persist.2 Only tiny amounts of hormone are needed to create health effects. Other pharma, such as antidepressants, can inhibit predator avoidance behaviors in larval fish.3 And antibiotic resistance has begun to take a toll on human health-care practices. Widely used in Confined Animals Feeding Operations (CAFOs), discharged into our waterways from municipal wastewater treatment plants or spread on agricultural lands as biosolids, antibiotics are now commonly detected in a range of ecosystems. Recent studies have shown adverse impacts on native microbial life, including increases in antibiotic-resistant bacterial populations4 and uptake in biota such as earthworms.5 In addition, disinfectants added to soaps and other products are prevalent in the environment and are known to facilitate antibiotic resistance.
We need to know: How long can pharmaceuticals exist in the environment before they cause large-scale ecological harm? Do they bioaccumulate? Just how toxic are they at the low levels we find in the environment and in our drinking water?
Studies take years. But we can take immediate action to make a difference!
Green Your Medicine
If your physician considers prescribing you a medication, ask, “Is this necessary?” Have a conversation about alternatives to pharma, including food, exercise and lifestyle modification or even whole-plant medicines, which all help to reduce inflammation and dispel health problems before they take hold.
Whole-plant medicines—plants taken as infusions, decoctions, tinctures, or topically—actually support the health of many systems in the body, including digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, musculoskeletal, immune, lymphatic, reproductive and respiratory. And what the body does not metabolize gets excreted and is “composted” by the environment.
If your physician does not have time or is unable to have this conversation, consult a different practitioner—a physician who practices green medicine, an acupuncturist, or a local community or clinical herbalist.
Colorize Your Plate
Nature is the master chemist. Take advantage of her colors: greens, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, blues, blue-blacks. Each represents a certain set of phytochemicals that can help us live better, healthier lives. And we could all use more veggies!
Green Your Body Care
Soap is not necessarily soap. If triclosan is on the label, buy something else. Better yet, support your local soapmakers—or learn how to make your own! Find out what’s in what you use at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/.
Follow Proper Disposal Guidelines
Unused pharma—whether script or OTC—may be returned to the pharmacy for disposal. Anne Arundel County Police Department has pharma drop boxes. For controlled substances, call the police for pick-up. For details, see http://www.aahealth.org/programs/env-hlth/housing/med-disposal
Write Your Elected Officials
Urge them to push pharmaceutical companies to green their products and make them more absorbable; to create means for proper disposal at all levels; and to stop mass advertising of pharmaceuticals.
1. Based on a 1999-2000 sample by the U.S. Geological Survey of 139 streams in 30 states. The sampling found one or more of these kinds of chemicals in 80 percent the sampled streams, with half of the streams containing seven or more of these chemicals, and about one-third 10 or more.
©2013 Leigh Glenn