Medical researchers have found that some of the streams, rivers, and groundwater in Patancheru, India, are really “a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment.”

[Image: The Iska Vagu stream near Hyderabad, India. “Indian factories that make lifesaving drugs swallowed by millions worldwide are creating the worst pharmaceutical pollution ever measured,” we read, “spewing enough of one antibiotic into a stream each day to treat everyone living in Sweden for a work week.” Photo by AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A].

“If you just swallow a few gasps of water,” a German doctor said to MSNBC, “you’re treated for everything. The question is for how long?”

Indeed, all of this has the unsurprising effect that “some of India’s poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.” For instance, amongst this mix are high levels of Ciproflaxin:

The more bacteria is exposed to a drug, the more likely that bacteria will mutate in a way that renders the drug ineffective. Such resistant bacteria can then possibly infect others who spread the bugs as they travel. Ciprofloxacin was once considered a powerful antibiotic of last resort, used to treat especially tenacious infections. But in recent years many bacteria have developed resistance to the drug, leaving it significantly less effective.

With sources of freshwater all over the world now showing at least trace signs of pharmaceutical pollution, is some kind of global superbug brewing?

Aside from the very real health implications of this story, though, I’m fascinated by these drugs’ effect on the landscape; in other words, millions of pounds’ worth of loose pharmaceuticals will surely someday form a detectable layer in the soil, given time.

Pharmaco-geological formations take shape in the sand, compacted into strange new types of stone. The locals dissolve slices of it in their tea, as it’s used to treat illnesses.
Thousands of years pass; then millions. The rocks you’re looking at in the wall of that canyon are made of lithified Prozac. Tylenol Gorge State Park.

A deltaic geography of sedimentary Tamiflu is eventually mined as a building material; temples of this unusually smooth rock are built; visits to them are believed to help prevent infection.

And how will this affect plants? If river grasses and trees begin to accumulate this novel class of mineral, taking pharmaceutical-rich waters up into their roots, will it change the way they grow? Day of the Triffids.

“We don’t have any other source, so we’re drinking it,” a local woman named R. Durgamma explains to MSNBC. In a chilling detail that reveals how those in power clearly know what is happening there, she adds: “When the local leaders come, we offer them water and they won’t take it.”

(Thanks, dad, for the link!)

4 thoughts on “Hydro-Pharmacology”

  1. on this tip, there was a documentary out last year called ‘flow,’ which explored the geopolitics of water–everything from taking a shower to big company-vs-small town stuff to even turning on the tap itself. not so formally interesting, and it didn’t do much with the documentary genre, but you’ll think twice about that next glass of water.

  2. Steven Matheson did a fantastic video art piece on a similar theme some years ago: Apple Grown in Wind Tunnel.

    It features a near-future USA, where people share folk cures made out of chemical detritus and pollution by passing around the recipes via pirate radio and gas station graffiti. The recipes include instructions for where and how to harvest the precious materials–from ditches by the side of the highway, in scrapings from old parking lots, and so on . . .

    The Getty showed it on a flat screen at the edge of the cactus promontory, floating over the 405 during the “Hotbed” garden party for “California Video” this past May, which was an apt staging.

    I couldn’t find it on either Youtube or UbuTube, but check it out, if you can. I think you’d really like it.

  3. In Britain, there are reports of streams where 1/3 of frogs and amphibians have sexual deformities in pharmaceutical polluted waters.
    Stats indicate a growing sterility in human males.
    There are other assaults on water too. Grist has articles of note.
    I’ve collected a few links to interested sites, including one which specializes in drinking water information: http://waterfortheages.org/

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