U.S. Water News Online
ALBUQUERQUE -- State environmental officials have new
evidence that prescription drug residues are making their way into
New Mexico's rivers.
Initial tests last summer turned up traces of some drugs. A second
round of tests have uncovered caffeine and residues from
anti-depressants and painkillers in samples from around the state.
Dennis McQuillan of the New Mexico Environment Department said the
results could have been worse.
``We really didn't see the magnitude of the drugs that Europeans
have seen,'' he said.
Germany, England, and other countries have been studying the
problem of pharmaceutical residues in water for years, but the issue
is just gaining widespread attention in the United States.
McQuillan theorized that New Mexico's intense sunlight might break
down the drug compounds. Or the state's less dense population could
explain the generally favorable results, he said.
No drug residues have been found in drinking water, and officials
said there is no solid evidence of human health risks.
The drug residues could be getting into rivers several ways.
People who take prescription medicine don't absorb all of it, so some
is excreted and ends up in the sewage system. Unused medicines also
can be flushed down the toilet. Drugs given to livestock may also be
excreted and then washed into rivers by runoff.
Scientists next month will take water samples from the middle Rio
Grande Valley. If those tests show no widespread contamination or
high levels of drug residues, environmental and health officials will
breathe a sigh of relief.
``If we don't find anything there, we won't find anything in the
state,'' McQuillan said.
On the drawing board for the future is testing for residues of
antibiotics, something the state laboratory isn't yet able to do.
Current testing methods cover 28 drugs but don't include cholesterol
or cardiovascular drugs.
Last summer, officials found traces of estrogen-type drugs in the
San Juan River near Bloomfield. The levels were high enough to cause
sexual disruption in fish.
Residues of painkillers and anti-seizure medicine also were found
in treated waste water flowing into the Rio Grande at Espanola.
McQuillan said the latest tests did not turn up estrogen
substances but they did find drug residues in treated sewage effluent
flowing into rivers in Farmington, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces.
There also were some residues detected in the Rio Grande: an
anti-depressant at Buckman north of Santa Fe, and caffeine at Sunland
Park south of Las Cruces.
``I expected to find a whole lot more,'' McQuillan said.
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