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article imageScientists Find Residue in Oregon Streams

By Carolyn E. Price     May 8, 2007 in Environment
Scientists who tested the silt in beds of streams around Portland found residue from resident's favorite coffee shops and from drugs that are supposed to be in their medicine cabinets, not flushed down their toilets.
The list of compounds that were found included Prozac, Tagamet, Benadryl, and Micatin, along with the caffeine that is notorious for making the Northwest so "edgy".
The scientists were surprised, and quite troubled because they do not know how these chemicals might affect fish or other life. Among other things, they are afraid that and other chemical substances could help bacteria and other organisms develop resistance to drugs and pesticides.
"The consequences may be major, but to some extent they may be subtle," said Joseph Rinella of the U.S. Geological Survey in Portland.
It should be noted that some of these compounds were detected in the local water system before, however this new research by Elena Nilsen of the survey's Portland office looked at the sediment on the river beds because it may collect the most of what passes by in the water.
This study is a part of a national attempt that is trying to identify what the main pollutants are in American water systems, where they are coming from and which water systems need to be cleaned up. The study's findings will be presented at a conference this week on pollution and contaminants in the lower Columbia River.
It is known that many of the compounds obviously come from human sewage that gets passed through sewage treatment plants that aren't designed to deal with them.
"People just assumed a lot of that stuff was removed," said Sheree Stewart, drinking water protection coordinator at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. "Actually a lot of what is in the raw water gets through."
The chemicals could be from people flushing surplus pills down their toilets, a practice that is no longer recommended. Some local agencies are working on programs to collect surplus pills to keep them out of the water system. This astonishes me, here in Canada, Shopper's Drug Mart has long had a program where you can bring back old drugs, vitamins and expired over-the-counter remedies for years.
The river-bottom study has so far detected compounds that are called endocrine-disrupting. These compounds are found in drugs as well as in other chemical compounds.
Scientists working on related studies found signs that young salmon of both genders from the Willamette River around Portland held traces of an egg yolk protein usually found only in adult female fish beginning to develop eggs - something that would happen if their bodies were tricked by artificial endocrine disrupters that interfere with the systems that manage hormones.
"So they're being exposed to something, we just don't know what it is," said Lyndal Johnson, head of reproductive toxicology at the federal Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "It's quite interesting, and a little disturbing."
This is being described as just a little disturbing?
Nilsen is reporting that one of the studies more notable findings is that the concentrations of drugs and other chemicals are higher in the smaller, urban waterways like Fanno Creek. She speculates that that may be due in part to the volume of water that flows through larger rivers like the Columbia, dilutes the drugs.
More about Drug chemical residue, Oregon, Streams
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