Pharmaceuticals ranging from painkillers to synthetic estrogens can harm aquatic life when they enter waterways through human excreta, hospital and household waste, and agricultural runoff. Now, researchers have shown that there's another way for such drugs to get into the environment: A treatment plant in India that processes wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturers discharges highly drug-contaminated water into a stream that feeds a major river.
The treated water contained astronomical amounts of antibiotics, along with high concentrations of analgesics, hypertension drugs, and antidepressants.
Production facilities "have not been considered an important source of drugs in [the] environment," says lead author Joakim Larsson of Göteborg University in Sweden. "This is not the case in India. We found levels of drugs many orders of magnitude higher than anywhere [recorded] on Earth before."