Guatemala City’s Rivers Contaminated with Drugs

ElPeriodico reported last week that the two main rivers in Guatemala City, besides being contaminated with the conventional sewage, also contain a lot of drugs. Specifically, they were found to contain:

¨Acetaminophen (paracetamol), caffeine, dexketoprofen (anti-inflammatory), phenylephrine (a vasoconstrictor) and ibuprofen (inflammatory).¨

The story was also picked up in English here. It is troubling for a number of reasons. The rivers are already almost hopelessly contaminated but there have been some efforts at clean-up (especially the water-treatment facility at Amatitlan). However, the water treatment facilities and the plant filtration systems at Amatitlan do not filter out the drugs. Additionally, according to Elisabeth Hernández from the University of San Carlos, who conducted the study, “the majority [of the drugs detected in water] maintain their pharmaceutical activity outside of the environments for which they were designed.” She cited risks including endocrine disruption, kidney damage, bioaccumulation, effects on ecosystems, and entry into the food chain.¨

The Environmental Ministry, in its already limited capacity, does not test for pharmaceuticals in water. The study suggests that most drugs enter the system through normal sewage runoff, i.e. from poop.

This problem is not unique to Guatemala. A report to be published in January will apparently show that in the US there are a lot of drugs in our drinking water and nobody has any idea (or at least political will) as to what they should do.

Credit to Mike from Central American Politics for pointing this out to me—and in turn, the entire Water Testing unit of the Environmental Ministry, who hadn’t seen this either.


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