The dangerous implications of chemicals on our health and the planet entered the public consciousness back in the 1960’s, and was influenced (in part) by campaigners such as Rachel Carson whose groundbreaking book ‘Silent Spring’ highlighted the toxic nature of DDT. Carson explained that chemicals have complex implications on our environment and can act in ways we never predicted.
Since then, some researchers have found that toxins and chemicals are not only costing us billions in terms of public health but may also be making us fat. Now, a researcher from the University of Tel Aviv insists that discarded drugs from the pharmaceutical industry are going undetected during tests on water and soil as sun exposure and oxidisation is breaking them down into different (and undetected) forms.
When researchers test for the presence of drug products in the environment, they will normally look for known compounds of drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers. However, Dr. Dror Avisar, who works at Tel Aviv University’s department of Geography and the Human Environment, told Sciencedaily.com that when testing for certain drugs, a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that the chemical is not there anymore.
Processes such as oxidisation and sun exposure can break down the drug into different forms and so could still be lurking in our water and soil. “Chemicals do not simply disappear – we must understand what they’ve turned into. We are dealing with a whole new range of contaminants,” Dr Avisar told Science Daily. “We may have several degradation products with even higher levels of bioactivity.”
Dr Avisar is currently carrying out extensive research to determine how drugs degrade and to identify the forms they take in the natural environment. This will help environmental scientists identify the degraded product which may take the shape of an entirely new chemical. For example, Dr Avisar has carried out a case study into the degradation of the common antibiotic amoxicillin and has found nine degradation products- two of which may be toxic.
This research, which highlights the complex nature of environmental pollutants, also reminds us of the fact that we can never be fully aware of the implications of actions we take when it comes to the use of dangerous chemicals. As such, caution and moderation can never be recommended highly enough.
: Image via e-MagineArt.com/flickr.
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