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Allison Walter

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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?

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    May 6 2012: Obviously irreversible damage to the environment and ecosystems we live in is not a good thing. But people will not just give up their drugs, so there has to be a way to get pharmaceutical companies to become more eco-friendly and sustainable, and research should be done to find ways to safely break down medicinal compounds that survive after passing through the human body so that they do not harm the environment anymore. So I think it is very important to look at the environment and human pharmaceutical manufacturing and consumption on a larger scale so that the interactions between the two can be better analyzed and perhaps ways to minimize damage from one to the other can be found.
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      May 7 2012: Lisa, you share my sentiments on this subject. I know that I will never throw away unused and expired medications without remembering what they MAY do to the environment. The problem remains that no government agency, like the FDA or CDC, has approached this problem with a public solution.

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