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Pharma pollution

The medical concept of care and cure appears to have been binned with the detection of anti-diabetic, anti-epileptic, and pain-relieving drugs in river water in Delhi and Hyderabad, thus making a mockery of the prognosis of an ailment. The canker is palpable no less in Iceland, Venezuela, New York, London, Glasgow, Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Lahore.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

The problem of polluted river water has been exacerbated with the latest global assessment of what they call pharmaceutical pollution. The findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The medical concept of care and cure appears to have been binned with the detection of anti-diabetic, anti-epileptic, and pain-relieving drugs in river water in Delhi and Hyderabad, thus making a mockery of the prognosis of an ailment. The canker is palpable no less in Iceland, Venezuela, New York, London, Glasgow, Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Lahore.

It is uncertain whether these drugs had reached their “date of expiry” and were then dumped into the river. Suffice it to register that if the river gets contaminated with drugs, it is a potential hazard to ecology and human health, one that is no less acute than the aftermath of immersion ceremonies, which pollution control boards have failed to address.

It is a measure of the overwhelming callousness that the highest concentration of drugs has been detected in “lower middle income” countries that boast large pharmaceutical production capacities … matched with poor environmental regulations. “We’ve known for almost two decades that pharmaceuticals make their way into the aquatic environment where they may affect the biology of living organisms,” is the response of John Wilkinson, an environmental researcher of the University of York, who led the study.

He was assisted among others by scientists of the IITs in Delhi and Hyderabad. A total of 1052 water samples from 104 countries were surveyed, and these included 258 rivers in 104 countries, including the Yamuna in Delhi and the Krishna and Musi rivers in Hyderabad. The study detected four active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), specifically, caffeine, nicotine, paracetamol, and cotinine, a by-product of tobacco. The samples were collected from all the continents, including Antarctica. Those from India contained analgesics, antibiotics, anti-convulsants besides anti-diabetic, anti-allergic and cardiovascular drugs called beta blockers.

India has incurred the dubious distinction of the world’s second-highest concentration of APIs at 21,000 nanograms per litre, second to Bolivia’s 25,400. The concentration of at least one API in a quarter of the sample sites worldwide is greater than levels considered safe for aquatic organisms. Not that such concentration has thus far caused harm to human beings; nonetheless, scientists are concerned over the risk that humans might be affected if API concentrations are detected in the bodies of aquatic organisms and reach levels close to therapeutic concentrations that are required as drugs and medicines.

The greatest deviation from the “safe threshold” was detected in an antibiotic that was examined in Barisal, Bangladesh. The concentration was more than 300 times higher than the level of safety. It is imperative for municipal bodies and those controlling riverine areas to devise an arrangement whereby drugs that have reached their sell-by date are discarded without harming the health of the people.