Statins polluting the environment

Dr. Weeks’ Comment:  Don’t flush your drugs down the toilet. They don’t break down easily and can pollute the environment!



Excerpt from “The Lost Language of Plants” by Stephen Harrod Buhner


In 1992 German researchers, looking for herbicidal pollution in ground water, were surprised to find high levels of clofibric acid—a drug used to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Subsequent studies indicated that the North Sea contained roughly 150,000 pounds of clofibric acid. The Danube River and the Po River (in Italy) were found to contain the same proportional quantities and the tap water in Berlin regularly tests between 10 and 165 parts per trillion. Many Swiss lakes and streams were also found to contain the drug. Because atmospheric transfer was systematically ruled out and Switzerland does not manufacture the drug, the environmental presence of clofibric acid is now known to come solely from prescription drug intake and excretion.’5

As concern for pharmaceuticals in the environment increased many researchers found their work impeded by the large numbers of pharmaceuticals they were finding and the cost of identifying them. Each researcher must obtain an exceptionally expensive “library” of the chemical profiles of all pharmaceutical drugs so that when they find an unidentified chemical profile through gas chromatography they can match it to one in the library. To date, German scientists have found anywhere from thirty to sixty pharmaceuticals in water samples they have examined in numerous countries—tap, surface, and ground water.16

Most pharmaceuticals are designed to resist breakdown, to persist, so that they can carry out their metabolic regulatory activities without interference from the body. In consequence many are extremely long lived. Researchers have tracked one plume of contaminated ground water from a landfill at Jackson Naval Air Station in Florida that has been slowly moving underground for more than twenty years. It still contains such drugs as pentobarbital, meprobamate, and phensuxim-ide—a barbiturate, a tranquilizer, and an anticonvulsant.17

Approximately one-third of pharmaceuticals are also designed to be only lipophilic—not water soluble—so that they only dissolve in fat. Lipophilic substances can readily pass through cell walls and chemically act inside them. In the environment these substances tend to concentrate in the food chain in the stored fat of all creatures. In consequence, carnivores higher up the food chain ingest increasingly large amounts of concentrated pharmaceuticals.

The top ten prescription medications in the United States (by number of prescriptions dispensed) are: Premarin (a conjugated estrogen hormone made from pregnant mares’ urine), Synthroid (a synthetic thyroid hormone), Lipitor (a cholesterol-lowering drug), Prilosec (a protein pump inhibitor that stops acid secretion in treating ulcers), Hydrocodone w/APAP (a narcotic pain reliever), Albuterol (a bronchial dilator), Norvasc (for high blood pressure), Claritin (an antihistamine), Trimox (an antibiotic), and Prozac (a mood regulator).’8 Eight of these are drugs that are used for months to years at a time. And they are being prescribed in ever increasing numbers.

The sales of Lipitor rose 46 percent from 1998 to 1999 while sales of all statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lipitor) rose 20 percent. Lipitor costs $3 per pill and is taken once per day; Pfizer reported sales of the drug in 1999 at 3.56 billion dollars. Approximately 5 million Americans take statins daily and physicians and pharmaceutical companies want to raise that number, perhaps to as high as 20 million—an increase of 400 percent—to treat what they feel are the many undiagnosed people who need it. Although physicians such as Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Cornell University Medical College, call statins “very safe drugs”19 for treating high cholesterol, he, like other researchers, is only looking at short-term effects in humans without any reference to their environmental impact.

Normally demonized by the press, cholesterol is actually an important natural substance, essential for all cellular functions in all animals. Statins such as Lipitor inhibit an enzyme—HMG CoA reductase— that is needed for cholesterol production to take place in living organisms. Like clofibric acid, the cholesterol-lowering drug found by Germans in water in Europe, Lipitor and other statins—taken daily for many years by millions of people—are flowing into the environment in huge quantities, where they will continue to inhibit HMG CoA reductase in whatever organisms ingest it.


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