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Drug & Metabolite Contamination - Guidelines?

There is a concern that our water resources are geting contaminated by residues of drugs and secondary metabolites excreted in urine  and from other sources.  Has BIS or ICMR has given guide lines for drinking water and regulations regarding the presence of residues of drugs and their metabolites? Or is there an effort to address the issue under the current guidelines for water standards in force in India.



1. Your concern is very valid,

Your concern is very valid, and is applicable not only to the residues of drugs and secondary metabolites, but to all the manufactured chemicals. The concern is voiced often for certain substances, like the agro-chemicals (fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides); is voiced less often for certain other substances, like soaps and detergents; and is voiced hardly ever for most other substances. e.g. have you ever noticed concerns being raised over what is the eventual life-cycle end for the wall paints (acrylic emulsion, distemper )? Or even for the toothpaste, shampoo, mosquito repellant, . . . ?

The unfortunate fact is, almost all these substances end up in the water. There is no other sink. Once a cake of soap is manufactured, no matter what you do, it is destined to get into your water supply. The portion you use gets dissolved in the bath water and reaches the river. The portion you do not use, e.g. in a hotel the house-keeping will replace the cake every day even after one single use, will go to city garbage dump and from there leach in to ground water, which is worse than getting in to the river.

Personally I am of the opinion that the far greater threat to our future water security is from quality issues, rather than from quantity issues. However, I am in a minority to think thus. For reasons that are beyond the scope of this response, the “water experts” are too preoccupied with quantity issues. And this will remain so in foreseeable future.

Guidelines or standards for regulating these pollutants will not help. Because standards have to be achievable. Suppose standard are prescribed. How will these be implemented ? No one takes medicines for fun. A patient has to take the medicines that are prescribed. So you can’t stop it at the source end. And removing the drugs or metabolites from the river or ground water on a bulk scale is beyond the scope of present water treatment technology. Some years ago when a high pitch concern was raised over pesticides in soft drinks (but not in milk or in fruit juices) an attempt was made to prescribe standards for trace pollutants for city water supply too. Fortunately, better sense prevailed, it was realized that if such standards are prescribed then the city water supply department will have to be closed down, and the move was dropped. At an individual level, you can use a reverse osmosis purifier.

Chetan Pandit

2. Dear Mr.Seth, As regards

Dear Mr.Seth,

As regards guidelines from BIS or ICMR, it will be best to contact the concerned authorities or to browse their web-sites. I can help only to the extent of my personal knowledge. As far as I am aware no tangible action has been taken in the municipal waterworks regarding residues of drugs and metabolites in drinking water. It is likely that the elaborate treatment process adopted in the bottled water industry removes such residues to a certain extent.

With regards    

Paritosh Tyagi
Chairman (Retired)
Central Pollution Control Board
New Delhi

3. Contamination of water sources/supplies by residues of drugs

Dear Mr.P.K Seth,

The problem you have pointed out has assumed a lot of importance and casued much concern in the USA. I have been following developments in this matter on the internet and find that the current work is on to establish the extent to which their water sources are contaminated.Coming to decisions on what should be the limits and what kind of treatment will be most effective to tackle this pollution is  quite some time away.I am really not aware whether anything at all is happening in India.



Water Management Consultant



4. Emerging Contaminants


Emerging contaminants such as pharmaceutical compounds, personal care products, detergents, etc have been reported to be present in source waters and also in drinking water. Conventional wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to remove/destruct these contaminants so only they end up in source water. Another way these contaminants enter into source water is industrial effluents. In other countries, there have been numerous press articles and media coverage on this subject.

These contaminants should be destroyed (not removed) before they enter into the source water. Many people are not aware of these contaminants and their adverse effects so only the concern is not voiced. Existing treatment processes should be replaced with advanced treatment processes and standards should be set. If not in Municipal treatment plants, atleast in Industries.



Sagar Vattikonda

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