TED Conversations

Allison Walter

This conversation is closed.

What is more important: Our drugs or our ecosystems?

Originally created to support human health and treat illnesses, pharmaceuticals are being scrutinized as a new class of water pollutants with potentially devastating effects on our ecosystems. Drugs including antibiotics, anti-depressants, birth control pills, and painkillers have been detected in our water sources. The remains of these drugs enter water systems through industrial waste, medical facilities, household toilets, and other methods of disposal. They then pass through sewage treatment facilities and into groundwater, irrigation systems, and waterways from lakes to oceans.

Numerous studies suggest that pharmaceutical wastes pose a significant environmental threat. For example, commonly used anti-depressants and birth control pills are being blamed for reducing fish sperm levels in lakes. Many aquatic and terrestrial organisms rely on fish for their own food and survival; therefore these drugs can be detrimental to biological diversity. Scientists are concerned that traces of pharmaceuticals in our water sources can be linked to abnormalities ranging from frog mutations, inter-sex fish, to an increase in cancer and behavior changes in aquatic organisms.

With the rise of global drug consumption, how much responsibility do the pharmaceutical companies have to protect the environment? How much responsibility do we have as individuals to stop taking these drugs if they cause harmful effects on the environment? Do the benefits we gain from drugs outweigh the long-term and irreversible impact they may have on our ecosystems?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    May 7 2012: It is true that the discovery of pharmaceuticals was extremely successful in decreasing disease and deaths in the human race. It is also true that many people rely on drugs like anti-depressants and pain killers to get from one day to the next. We are now in a world where things like this have become a major part of our daily lives. Its interesting to think that something that has helped our specie succeed so much is at the same time preventing other species from doing the same. Nevertheless, even though pharmaceutical companies are doing much of us a favor by relieving us of our pain and disease, I think they should take responsibility for causing harmful effects on the environment. And after seeing what effects drugs have on the rest of the environment, pharmaceutical companies should try thinking of alternative ways to make medicine that is helpful but also will not harm the environment. I understand that this is a lot easier said than done, but with an advancement such as stated, we would be one step closer to conserving what matters, ourselves as well the environment and biodiversity. Also, I don't think the pharmaceutical companies are not the only ones to blame, as us, the general population are the ones that use the drugs. Like I mentioned earlier, people rely on these kind of drugs to get from one day to the next. I always wonder, is it really necessary? Do we even know when is necessary or not anymore? As the general population, I think its important to realize that its not healthy to rely on medication everyday as well.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.