India: world’s highest drug levels entering stream in Andhra Pradesh

PATANCHERU: When researchers [led by Joakim Larsson of  the University of Gothenburg, Sweden] analyzed vials of treated wastewater from a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues, they were shocked. Powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.

And it’s not just ciprofloxacin. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating 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. It is the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

These factories, located [in Patancheru] on NH-9, just 28km from Hyderabad [in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh], produce drugs for much of the world. The result: Some of Andhra’s poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

[…] Patancheru became a hub for largely unregulated chemical and drug factories in the 1980s, creating what is described locally as an “ecological sacrifice zone” with its pharmaceutical waste. Since then, India has become one of the world’s leading exporters of pharmaceuticals, and the US which spent $1.4 billion on Indian-made drugs in 2007, is its largest customer. [T]he wastewater downstream from the Indian plants contained 150 times the highest levels detected in the US.

[…] M Narayana Reddy, president of India’s Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association, disputes Larsson’s initial results: “I have challenged it,” he said. “It is the wrong information provided by some research person.”

Reddy acknowledged the region is polluted, but said that the contamination came from untreated human excrement and past industry abuses. He echoed pollution control officials, saying villagers are supposed to drink clean water piped in from the city or hauled in by tankers which a court ordered the industry to provide. But locals complain of insufficient supplies and some say they are forced to use wells.

“We are using these drugs (traces of which are found in water here), and the disease is not being cured. There is resistance going on there,” said Dr A Kishan Rao, a medical doctor and environmental activist who has treated people for more than 30 years near the drug factories. He says he worries most about the long-term effects on his patients potentially being exposed to constant low levels of drugs. […] “It’s a global concern,” he said. “European countries and the US are protecting their environment and importing the drugs at the cost of the people in developing countries.”

For more information on this topic see the US EPA’s page on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Pollutants (PPCPs)

Source:  Margie Mason, AP / Yahoo! News, 25 Jan 2009 and Times of India, 27 Jan 2009

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