March 7, 2006

Residue from drugs and cosmetics are tainting Canadian waterways, according to a report published recently by the nonprofit Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy. The report cites data from the U.S. and Europe -- where testing conducted over the past decade has found waterways to be highly contaminated by such pollutants -- and posits that data from Canada is likely to be similar, although research there has not been as extensively conducted.

"It is reasonable to assume," the report notes, "that pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants are widely present in the streams, lakes, rivers and groundwater in the densely populated regions of the country." It states that in 2004, Canadians filed 400 million prescriptions, and notes that antibiotics and growth hormones are used regularly in hospitals and farming. In both humans and farm animals, 50 to 90 percent of the active ingredients of these compounds are not absorbed; they are thus released into sewage systems and ultimately into surface waters.

The report calls for the country's provinces to work toward developing a safe-disposal system to combat this problem. British Columbia, which currently runs a program through its pharmacies in which patients can return unused medication, could be used as a model for a nationwide safety program, the report suggests.