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Pharmaceutical Waste: How Sex Hormones Affect Human and Aquatic Life

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1768 words Published: 3rd Nov 2020

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The growing rate of pharmaceutical waste has become a large environmental and public health concern in the United States and around the globe. There has not only been an increase in prescription drug usage, but also a lack of serious regulation on the matter. The project that I wish to conduct will identify the most commonly found synthetic hormones in waterway systems, and identify how to properly filter these hormones out of waterways to ensure the safety of both humans and aquatic life. I wish to inform the public on the risks of pharmaceutical dumping into various waterways, and how it can affect a multitude of aspects of our environment and health.  I find the topic fascinating because there seems to be a lax attitude when it comes to properly disposing of pharmaceuticals. Working in the pharmaceutical industry has made me become more curious on what happens to the drugs that I supply to consumers when they leave my hands. I feel as though I am an intermediate between the production of pharmaceuticals and the disposal of them, and I wish to know what occurs in these steps in more detail. Specifically focusing on the sex hormone analogs that are disposed of will allow me to analyze the risks of disposal processes from start to finish.

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The presence of hormones in surface and drinking water has become a growing concern as of late. These compounds are first released to the aquatic environment from wastewater treatment plants, and have been found in various samples of water sources. (Lin & Reinhard, 2004). Different  sources of research have demonstrated the effects of these contaminants, and how they are specifically detrimental to aquatic life. Although we have a slight understanding on the effects of aquatic life, we still do not know how these mass-produced sex hormones will affect human life.  The use of synthetic hormones has become popularized around the globe, and have become essential to so many individuals living today. A progression in chemistry techniques, specifically in analytical chemistry have provided scientists with the tools to analyze different compounds at smaller concentrations in water, which assists us in understanding the severity of the issue (Kuster et al., 2008). The image below shows the sources and fate of pharmaceutical substances in the environment. As shown below, there are many different sources of drug waste that come from humans, whether the source be from a hospital, a farm, or a home. We create this waste in so many different ways, and this is why I believe it is so important to take these matters more seriously before the issue becomes uncontrollable in its interference with wildlife.

Environmental estrogens are a form of endocrine disrupting chemicals and can affect the function of the endocrine systemin many different animal species. Change in function can have a large (possibly detrimental) influence on growth, development, and reproduction (Al-Ansari et al., 2010). Estrogens that have been flushed into waterways are shown to cause many atypical biological responses in many aquatic species. Various estrogens are now known to cause disruption of the endocrine systems of fish, and can actually alter their reproductive systems drastically (Jarošová, 2014).Aquatic species are not the only individuals affected by this issue, as bioassays have shown that the estrogenic, androgenic, and progestagenic trigger levels can be determined through testing, and human health has to now be considered as well (Brand et al., 2013). These calculated values can allow scientists to assess if the risk to human health is large enough to take severe action, or if additional examination is required to determine the steps that we should take to solve the issue. The topic of pharmaceutical contamination is a difficult topic to discuss because it is a problem that has many complexities involved in it. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the issue, and there is a lack of regulation in some of these factors that will be discussed (Wu & Janssen, 2011).

A study which was conducted on the assessment of the amounts of  estrogens in drinking water observed the normal intake in children and adults, and also observed the intake of estrogens in drinking water to assess if this additional level vastly higher or lower than the dietary intake (Caldwell et al., 2010). In short, the study concluded that the total estrogens in water are not causing adverse effects in US populations, for now. We cannot completely predict the future disposal of estrogens and other hormones in water systems, so an accurate estimate for the impact level that they may have on humansis nearly impossible at this time. In pharmaceutical industrial environments, much of the wastewater produced is from cleaning the different types of equipment, and although a minuscule amount of wastewater is produced in these processes, it is extremely polluted due to the high amounts of organic pollutants being utilized in the facilities (Ashfaq & Khatoon, 2014). In my project, I would like to identify and explain  several  different methods of wastewater treatment and reuse.  There has not been a single type of technology that can fully remove pharmaceutical residue from wastewater, and this is another issue that must be thoroughly explained. (Gadipelly, 2014). After analyzing multiple studies, I will find the best  recommendations that prove to be useful for the treatment of water that has been tainted with pharmaceutical waste. Specifically, I will discuss the elimination of steroidal sex hormones by water treatment. One type of promising treatment for pharmaceutical wastewater is nanofiltration.  It is a promising technique used for water treatment, because it separates micropollutants and ions from streams (Bodzek & Dudziak, 2006). Nanofiltration can remove almost all estrogens in wastewater, leaving only a small percentage behind.

Overall, the estrogenic activity in water systems is still low. In both India and China there are large amounts of drugs found in waterways, and these include both beta blockers and antibiotics. The regulations governing India and China are low in comparison to other places around the world. Some countries must assess the possible environmental damage that a specific drug will make on the environment before mass production occurs. After this assessment, if a drug proves to not be extremely damaging to the environment, it will enter the market. (Corcoran, Winter, & Tyler, 2010). If we ever want to change the fate of the world’s waterways, we must take the regulation of pharmaceutical waste more seriously. The dumping of waste in waterways causes detrimental changes in biological responses in aquatic life forms, and must be addressed properly before it is too late. This study that I wish to conduct will look at sex hormones and their effect on aquatic life, while also viewing the issue at a higher, human-based level as well. Not only do I wish to further understand the severity of the issue, but I also hope to identify the specific methods in which we can decrease these hormonal levels in waterways.

Literature Cited

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