Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The 'Tainted' Water Cover Up

This drugs-in-the-drinking water story is huge. I recall CNN had it listed as its top story yesterday morning (which is very, very unusual for a health or science story). "Prescription drugs found in drinking water across U.S.," read the headline. Also, look up "drugs drinking water" at Google News, and the first block of hits is 850 deep. The second is 306.

The story has struck such a chord that Capitol Hill has been stirred into action. The AP (which originally broke the story)
reports today the Senate is organizing hearings around the matter.

In case you've been living under a rock, "a vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans," according to CNN.

At first glance, Pound360 shrugged, "who cares?" There are no toxic substances, only toxic amounts, right?

We're still pretty much indifferent to the story, but a feature at MSNBC suggests even "scant amounts" of pharmaceuticals diluted in water can slow some cell growth (in lab tests) by up to a third. In other tests, tainted water sped up growth of cancer cells.

Of course a lab test is, well, a lab test. So it's tough to say what effect drugs in tap water will have on actual people. But now that the cat's officially out of the bag on this, we're sure a whole string of tests, reports and public shock will ensue.

Actually, Pound360 recalls hearing this same story reported last year. But try and track it down, we did. You'll notice it's impossible to cut through the latest coverage.

coverage of the latest scare at MSNBC suggests this story is nothing new. In fact, it seems, public utilities have been covering up the fact that there are drugs in our drinking water for a while out of "concerns about national security, fears of panic, a feeling that the public will not understand -- even confidentiality agreements."

Let's see. "Fears of panic?" Of course. "A feeling that the public will not understand?" Yes, unless it's described on Entertainment Tonight by the latest American Idol. But what's this business about confidentiality agreements and national security?

As far as confidentiality, it seems that's the only way to get some public utilities to open their doors to testing. According to MSNBC, "Utilities generally only allow scientists to test their water if they ensure confidentiality." Makes sense, in a very dark, sleazy way.

Regarding national security, there are no answers; dark, sleazy or otherwise. Take the case of Emporia, Kansas water treatment plant supervisor Ron Rhodes. This is pretty depressing. When asked about drugs in the water coming into or out of his plant, he declined to answer and, of course, blamed Bin Laden. "Well, it’s because of 9/11. We want everybody to guess." When asked what one had to do with the other, he responded, "We’re not putting out more information than we have to put out… how about that?”

How about Emporia, Kansas find a new water treatment plant supervisor?

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.