Showers and baths are potential sources of hormones, antibiotics and other medicines that pollute water, a new study shows.
Toilets are a known source of environmental pollution from active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which are excreted in urine and faeces. In addition, many people flush unused drugs down the toilet. APIs can make it through the disinfection process at sewage treatment plants and enter rivers, lakes and oceans. Some APIs end up in drinking water.
This study is the first to link bathing, showering and laundering with API water pollution.
"These routes may be important for certain APIs found in medications that are applied topically, which means to the skin. They include creams, lotions, ointments, gels and skin patches," study co-author Dr Ilene Ruhoy, director of the Institute for Environmental Medicine at Touro University in Henderson, Nev., said in a news release.
Because they are intact when they enter the environment, topical APIs can have a greater impact than APIs released in faeces and urine, which have been broken down by the liver and kidneys.
How the study was done
For this study, the researchers reviewed hundreds of studies on the metabolism and use of medications. The findings were to be presented Thursday at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Francisco.
"We need to be more aware of how our use of pharmaceuticals can have unwanted environmental effects," Ruhoy said. "Identifying the major pathways in which APIs enter the environment is an important step toward the goal of minimizing their environmental impact."
The local persepective
However, Health24's EnviroHealth Editor, Olivia Rose-Innes said that people should take a moment to wipe off topical applications, and discard them in the bin before they have a shower/bath.
"I'd include other non-drug chemical products as well, like sun cream and make-up. Previously it was advised that when at the gym people should shower to remove topical products before getting into the communal pool, but a quick cleanse with a cotton-wool wipe is better.
"I'd also advise that people consider taking sponge baths more often: a great water-saver as well as a way to reduce the amount of topical chemicals getting into our waterways. It's also perfectly hygienic - it's how patients stay clean in hospital," she said.- (HealthDay News, March 2010)