Pharmaceuticals in Our Water Systems: A Time to Act

He had worked the last 15 years to develop a new filtration system that screened out harmful pharmaceuticals from contaminating the water supply.

An excerpt from Betrayal of Trust

Betrayal of Trust, indiepub, amwriting, amreading, crime, thriller, suspense, fiction 

Shortly after I began writing Betrayal of Trust, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer; this motivated me to take a closer look at my environment.

The above excerpt and its associated references throughout the novel attempt to draw the reader into asking three basic questions:

  • How do pharmaceutical by-products get into our water system?
  • What might be the effects? And, is there scientific research to support it?
  • Is main character Edward Slocum’s concern about pharmaceuticals contaminating the water supply justified?

Unfortunately, to my knowledge no reader has addressed any of these questions, which makes me think that the sequel must be more pointed in its intent to reveal this growing problem.

Unlike most pollutants, medications are designed specifically to act on the human body. The effect of certain drugs or combination of drugs in our drinking water (consumed in large quantities every day) over decades is a question that must be addressed now. If I am correct that there is a growing concern within the scientific community, then their research must be supported and financed to find answers.

James Spader’s character Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington on the weekly series “Black List” recently commented that real answers and solutions no longer rested in government since the world was now run by criminals and corporations. Is Reddington a cynic, a realist or a little of both?  I’ll leave that for the reader to debate.

As a stakeholder in Earth’s ecosystems, corporations’ profit-driven mandates must coexist genuinely with the highest commitment and responsibility to the principles of environmental sustainability and land stewardship. Communities within which corporations reside and operate share that same responsibility and commitment to the environment. We do not want to be left at the end of the day with only paper money to eat because everything around us is either ‘poisoned’ or ‘dead.’

 

Begging the Question

      Do pharmaceuticals detected in our environment impact human health and/or aquatic organisms? Maybe Edward Slocum in my novel Betrayal of Trust had every right to be concerned. At least he was willing to commit 15 years of his life to correct the problem.

In an article on prostate cancer in Health and the Environment, Dr. Ted Schettler, MD, MPH stated: “…prostate cancer is influenced by fetal, childhood, and adult events, including exposure to environmental contaminants. In particular, contaminants with estrogenic properties may play an important role in early life.”

If there are indeed too many unknowns surrounding the cocktail of medications in our drinking water, then now is the time to change that. The reason: for the children that are and will be. Why? Because they will be the ones most affected during their developmental stages; while aquatic life depended on for food /recreation may either disappear or be dramatically altered.

Partnerships

A number of years ago, I had the honor to work with a community organization called Future Builders. Though the raison d’être for Future Builders was focused more on educational change than the need to learn more about the effects of pharmaceutical contamination, its inclusion here is still relevant.

Future Builders supported educators/learners in making the shift from fact-based learning to ‘learning about learning’ in the context of a lifelong process of inquiry. The strong principle underlying the work of volunteers in the organization was ‘participation tied to responsibility, motivation and ownership for creating solutions that work.’ Their products and services targeted: parents, businesses, community workers, educators and students.

Their steering committee struggled with a number of questions; each question—like a multiplier— generating a set of increasingly more complex questions. Here are some of those initial questions they struggled with in order to establish a credible community action-oriented organization to be reckoned with:

·         What model will encourage the active participation of all stakeholders?

·         How do you view all learning from a global perspective?

·         How do you effectively use the wealth of research on learning, thinking, personality styles, and communication?

·         How will information be gathered and shared about what is working?

·         How are competency levels addressed in the community and workplace?

·         What funding is necessary and how will it be raised?

·         How is inter-cultural and inter-sector participation ensured?

·         How will technology and media be utilized to interact, educate and communicate?

No matter the purpose of the community organization, an in-depth educational process within the group must occur first if its members hope to educate the larger community (outside the organization) with any degree of credibility. Future Builders focused on essential skills for responsible action in the family, the community, the workplace and society. Creative thinking, depth listening, working with others, active participation and adaptability to change were key components to this focus. Essential laudable attributes to any call to action within a community.

During the period I was associated with Future Builders, I was invited by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to co-author a manual: A Guide to Public Involvement (Z764-96). The CSA Group is an independent, internationally accredited standards development, testing and certification organization that is a not-for-profit member-based association. There vision is “to create a better, safer, more sustainable world where standards work for people and business.”

A Guide to Public Involvement “is a guide to…help make informed decisions about the most appropriate ways of involving the public.” Specifically, the Guide helps a business

1.    To determine the extent of their need to involve the public in an upcoming decision;

2.    To decide which form of public involvement is most appropriate;

3.    To help in the detailed planning for public involvement;

4.    To carry it out;

5.    To evaluate the results.

The Guide also addresses the questions:

  • What does public involvement mean?
  • Why involve the public?

 

Understanding the variety of ways people learn and the development of ‘tools’ that reflect that understanding increases a wider active listening in the community and willingness to form partnerships. I have no doubt that the CSA Group and Future Builders would concur on this observation.

Something To Ponder

According to Cancer Research UK, “Prostate cancer is the sixth most common cause of death from cancer in men worldwide.”

U.S.  News published an article by HealthDay on June 1, 2012 stating: “The worldwide incidence of cancer is expected to increase 75 percent by 2030, with a projected increase of more than 90 percent in the poorest nations…certain types of cancer… reductions are likely to be offset by substantial increases in the types of cancer associated with “westernized “ lifestyles, including breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, according to the report published online May 31 in The Lancet Oncology…”

In a report updated 01/14/12 in Huffpost Healthy Living, Dr. David  Margel, lead author of a study published by researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada and published in the online British Medical Journal Open, said: “…where the oral contraceptive was used more often, prostate cancer had a greater incidence…where millions of women are doing it and for a long period of time, it may cause low environmental estrogen levels…We think further research is needed to explore both oral contraceptives, but also other estrogen compounds that may contaminate our environment  and may cause and increase the incidence and mortality from prostate cancer.”

 According to an Associated Press investigation “a vast array of pharmaceuticals—including antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones—have been found in the drinking water supplies of a least 41 million Americans…”

According to Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., in her book A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention: “…children are at special risk from environmental contaminants, but we don’t have an adequate understanding of the threats…What we do know is that our failure to act against cancer-promoting contamination is having a profound effect on our children. Children’s and adolescents’ cancer incidence rates have risen significantly over the past 15 years.”

The above quotes represent the tip of the iceberg to a very real and growing concern within the scientific community. Though more than half of all cancers are preventable through lifestyle and dietary factors, our unwitting choices and our environment may be the culprits for the increase in certain forms of cancer. If it is true that one of four Americans will die of cancer then might this be called an epidemic? The commonality for all humans and living creatures on this earth is that we all require water to survive; anything that even remotely has the potential to threaten our water sources must be dealt with head-on through ongoing financial-scientific-education commitments. There can be no half-measure here. Asking questions is the necessary first step to not only understanding how the mixture of lifestyle-diet-environment may affect our life now but their answers may go a long way to protecting future generations.

Some Questions to Consider

  1. Why do medications pose a unique danger?
  2. Does your water provider conduct pharmaceutical screenings?
  3. Are results from pharmaceutical screenings disclosed by your water provider?
  4. Is your water treatment facility required to test for or filter out pharmaceutical contaminants?
  5. Has your federal government set safety limits for pharmaceutical contaminants in water?
  6. Who monitors the watersheds for pharmaceutical contaminants?
  7. What regulations are in place to address trace pharmaceutical contaminants?
  8. How are rural consumers who are on well systems protected from pharmaceutical contaminants?
  9. Since leakage from failed septic systems can add to the problem of pharmaceutical contamination, what regulations are in place to stop it?
  10. What regulations are in place to ensure the quality of bottled water? That is water  free from (pharmaceutical) contaminants?
  11. Is there a drop-off depot for the proper discarding of unused pharmaceuticals?
  12. What regulations govern the use of steroids and other hormones in cattle?
  13. How is the local wildlife affected by pharmaceutical contamination?
  14. Who in the population is most vulnerable to pharmaceutical contamination? And, how can they be protected?

The above questions are by no means exhaustive but many should open up a myriad of other questions and, like the peeling of an onion, they will open up layers of complexity that may bring you to tears. 

 

Stonewalling

As you begin ’to peel the onion’ in search of the more complicated underlying questions and their respective answers, you will undoubtedly encounter less than satisfying replies to your queries. Replies, quite bluntly, that are patronizing and designed to shut down the enquiry process. Five common replies that stonewall are:

·         We are already meeting municipal, provincial, state and federal regulations;

·         There is little or no scientific evidence to support the claim that pharmaceutical contamination in our drinking water is at levels harmful to humans;

·         Releasing results of pharmaceutical screenings of the water supply would be too complicated for the public to interpret correctly;

·         Lack of understanding of pharmaceutical screening results may cause undue alarm in the public;

·         Budgetary restraints prevent us from pursuing this without support from all levels of government.

An Approach

Seeking real answers and solutions is a long and arduous process that requires a willing and informed collaborative approach inclusive of all stakeholders. In other words, it requires hard work and commitment and, above all, honesty between stakeholders. And, there’s the rub, especially when corporate bottom-lines are mixed into the brew. Collaborative, non-competitive approaches to solutions are not widely encouraged in our society. Just look at the types of highly successful video games that are marketed to children and reflect for a moment on how they may affect how we as a society think. I’m not saying that I’m against these types of games, though I do admit I wish some had never seen the light of day; I am saying there is a need for a different kind of thinking. Thinking that includes more collaborative approaches to problem-solving and integrative learning in games for early childhood through adolescence. One example of such a game is Pandemic in which players work collaboratively to stop a pandemic. If few people are either unable or unwilling to leave their ego and politics outside the door, then trying ‘to walk the talk’ of collaborative solutions is next to impossible. Thinking collaboratively is a learned process with no quick fix-it, Band-Aid-type solutions. Its aim is to find the best solution through shared ownership by its stakeholders. It is not a winner take all mentality!

At the moment, it is a given that researchers do not know what the long-term and persistent effects of pharmaceutical contamination are but, every effort must be made across communities to encourage them to seek those answers. Remember, at one time the effects of pesticides, lead and PCBs were unknown. Now, their harmful effects are well documented and these contaminants along with others are regulated.

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A Memoir by Roberta Goodman

PTTU eBook Cover copyA Book Worth Reading

B. B. Wright: Your most recent project ‘Persevering through the Unforeseen: One Couple’s Experience Conquering Testicular Cancer’ is now  published. Recently you wrote: “…Persevering is closest to my heart because everything documented happened. I hope to spread the word about Testicular Cancer by releasing this story.”  Describe this most recent endeavor and how you hope “to spread the word about Testicular Cancer.”

Roberta Goodman: Cancer is an insidious disease that can strike anyone at anytime. I was hit with this realization when my husband, who was thirty-six at the time, was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer in January 2011. He underwent an orchiectomy to remove his testicle which we later learned contained two tumors. When TC is suspected removal of the testicle is the only way to perform a biopsy. When it was discovered the cancer had spread to his pelvic area, he was forced to endure four aggressive cycles of chemotherapy for a total of twenty doses.

It was a very stressful time for my entire family, because we didn’t know what to expect. When I initially looked for information about TC, I was overwhelmed by the medical jargon. I also discovered not many people have written personal accounts of their TC battles. It’s not a cancer that gets much publicity, because the numbers of men who get it are overshadowed by the number of individuals who get other cancers. I decided I needed to document what was happening to better educate people about the emotional upheaval and the treatment options for this particular cancer. I knew very little about chemotherapy until my husband went through it. I didn’t realize older people can’t get chemo in the amounts he received, because they’re not strong enough to handle it.

Writing down what we went through was my way of coping with a situation I couldn’t control. If I can reach those who might be comforted by reading what my husband and I as well as our family went through, and triumphed over, then all the work I’ve done writing, revising, and editing it will be worth it. If I can educate those going through a similar situation, so they are aren’t terrified by the experience, then all the suffering that happened in our lives won’t be in vain.

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