The cumulative effect of pharmaceuticals such as birth control pills and antibiotics in our drinking water, as well as our lakes and rivers, is a lingering concern.
In the past, questions posed by this newspaper to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and other levels of government about the effects of trace amounts of chemicals such as bisphenols, hormones and even arsenic in our drinking water has always been met with the same response. That response went something like this: the amounts are so miniscule there is nothing to worry about.
The problem is our measurement is only as good as our technology and testing frequency. Then there’s each individual’s makeup, existing conditions and predisposition to a given chemical or substance. There are also children and the elderly who may react differently.
It’s encouraging that the Ministry of the Environment, in partnership with a cross section of municipalities that operate drinking water systems, embarked on a study of residue pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, ground and source water in 2004 and 2005. It took five years for those results to be released in 2010, and it was done with very little fanfare. Those results indicate what many of us suspected, certain trace pharmaceuticals linger, despite treatment.
What has not been studied is their cumulative effect on health. It’s time the Ministry of the Environment partner with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Natural Resources and conduct a study on the health effects on a diverse sample of people, as well as on our natural environment, of things such as birth control pills, Ibuprofen and other chemicals found in our drinking, ground water, lakes, rivers, streams and other water sources. Knowledge is power and this is knowledge we cannot afford to continue without.
Members of Huntsville’s sustainability committee are right. More research is needed. We need to know what the cumulative effects of such pharmaceuticals are on our health and our overall environment. Is there something we should be doing to protect the health of our children? Is there a better process for detection? Should municipalities incorporate another process to further decrease the byproducts of certain drugs?
We hope the Unity Plan’s environmental protection committee letter to environment minister Jim Bradley has an impact. Research into this issue must continue!