Submitted by Glynn Beck, KY Geological Survey
Over the past decade, surface water sampling conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others (Hedgespeth and others, 2012) has shown the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment. PPCPs are products used by individuals for personal care or health reasons or used by the agricultural industry to enhance the growth or health of livestock. PPCPs include prescription and over-the counter drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, cosmetics, sun-screen products, diagnostic agents, and nutraceuticals (such as vitamins). PPCPs enter our environment through human activity (such as bathing, shaving, using lotion, or taking medication), illicit drug use, veterinary drug use (especially antibiotic and steroid use), the agriculture industry, and residues from pharmaceutical manufacturing and hospital use.
In 1999 and 2000, the USGS sampled 139 streams in 30 states for 95 pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals. One or more of the chemicals analyzed were found in 80 percent of the streams sampled (Barnes and others, 2002; Buxton and Kolpin, 2002; Kolpin and others, 2002a; Kolpin and others, 2002b). In 2008, the USGS, in cooperation with the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW), sampled 9 selected watersheds in Kentucky for PPCPs. Surface water samples analyzed from seven of the nine watersheds contained one or more pharmaceuticals and antibiotics (Angie Crain, USGS Kentucky Water Science Center, personal communication).
In an effort to further increase our knowledge of the presence of PPCPs in Kentucky’s surface waters, six watersheds were sampled for 17-β Estradiol and Fluoroquinolones. 17-β Estradiol, or estradiol, is a hormone steroid naturally produced by humans and animals. Studies conducted in Europe (Larsson and others, 1999), the United States (Kolpin and others, 2002a) and Canada (Servos and others, 2005) have shown that estradiol is present in surface water. Estradiol is a known endocrine disruptor, which may have a deleterious effect on aquatic wildlife (Purdom and others, 1994; Jobling and others, 1998). Potential sources of estradiol to surface water are effluent from waste water treatment plant (WWTP) outfalls, surface runoff from animal manure amended fields, and effluent from domestic straight pipes.
Fluoroquinolones are a group of broad spectrum antibacterials used to treat humans and animals (Andersson and MacGowan, 2003; McEwen and Fedorka-Cray, 2002). Like estradiol, studies in Europe (Andreozzi and others, 2003) and the United States (Kolpin and others, 2002a) have shown that fluoroquinolones are present in surface water. In 2005, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry production (Nelson and others, 2007). The ban was implemented because of the development of human infections with fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter species associated with the consumption of poultry (Nelson and others, 2007). Currently, the effects of fluoroquinolones, if any, on aquatic wildlife are unknown. Potential sources of fluoroquinolones to surface water are the same as those of estradiol.
Estradiol and fluoroquinolones are not regulated, which means that waste water treatment plants are not required to specifically treat for these compounds. However, the treatment process may inadvertently lower the concentration of these compounds.
In June and July of 2012 (round 1) fifty-six grab samples were collected from the Bayou de Chien, Clarks River, Floyds Fork, South Elkhorn Creek, Banklick Creek, and Licking River watersheds. Of the 56 surface water samples collected, 15 (27 percent) contained estradiol at a concentration greater than the method detection limit of 3.0 parts per trillion, whereas only 5 (9 percent) samples contained fluoroquinolones at a concentration greater than the method detection limit of 0.025 parts per billion. The method detection limit is the lowest detectable concentration of the analytical method used to detect estradiol and fluoroquinolones in the surface water. Five samples containing 17-β Estradiol and 4 samples containing fluoroquinolones were collected downstream, within 200 ft, of a known WWTP outfall.
In order to obtain more statistically significant data, 20 sites within four of the original six watersheds were resampled four times during November and December of 2012 (rounds 2-5). Two sampling sites were within the Bayou de Chien, four within the Clarks River, six within the Floyds Fork, and eight within the South Elkhorn Creek watersheds.
Estradiol and fluoroquinolones concentrations for sampling rounds 2 through 5 ranged from less than the method detection limit (3.0 ppt) to 14.0 parts per trillion and less than the method detection limit to 0.456 parts per billion, respectively. The highest concentrations of both chemicals occurred at sampling sites downstream of WWTP outfalls.
Future research, dependent upon funding, includes sampling additional watersheds across the state and analyzing those samples for specific compounds to determine their exact concentration in surface water. In addition, karst springs need to be sampled and analyzed to determine water quality related to the presence of pharmaceuticals.
Proper disposal of unwanted or unused pharmaceuticals can help safeguard our environment from PPCPs. Take advantage of pharmaceutical take-back programs. Check with local and state law enforcement agencies for specific dates and locations of programs near you. In addition to take-back programs, also check with local and state waste management authorities for household hazardous waste collection programs that accept PPCPs. If no programs are available, contact your county Solid Waste Coordinator for information on proper disposal. And remember, always follow any specific disposal instructions that may be printed on the label or accompany patient information. Never flush unused medications down the toilet or pour them down the sink unless the medication’s label or accompany patient information specifically instructs you to do so.
If there are no take-back or household hazardous waste collection programs available and if the medication label does not have specific disposal instructions then you can take the drugs out of their original container and mix with an undesirable substance, such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. By mixing with an undesirable substance, the medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to individuals who may intentionally go through your trash. Place the items in a sealed bag or empty container with lid to prevent the medication from leaking or spilling out in a garbage bag. In addition, scratch out all identifying information on any prescription labels to protect your identify and personal health information. If you have any questions about proper disposal, contact your pharmacist.
Funding was provided in part by the USDA-NIFA Southern Region Water Program and the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute Student Enhancement Grant (USGS 104B Program).
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