Stay Calm–Prozac in Your Drinking Water
Published on Sunday, August 8, 2004 by the Observer/UK
by Mark Townsend
It should make us happy, but environmentalists are deeply alarmed: Prozac,
the anti-depression drug, is being taken in such large quantities that it
can now be found in Britain’s drinking water.
Environmentalists are calling for an urgent investigation into the
revelations, describing the build-up of the antidepressant as ‘hidden mass
medication’. The Environment Agency has revealed that Prozac is building up
both in river systems and groundwater used for drinking supplies.
The government’s chief environment watchdog recently held a series of
meetings with the pharmaceutical industry to discuss any repercussions for
human health or the ecosystem.
The discovery raises fresh fears that GPs are overprescribing Prozac,
Britain’s antidepressant of choice. In the decade up to 2001, overall
prescriptions of antidepressants rose from nine million to 24 million a
A recent report by the Environment Agency concluded Prozac could be
potentially toxic in the water table and said the drug was a ‘potential
However, the precise quantity of Prozac in the nation’s water supplies
remains unknown. The government’s Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) said
Prozac was likely to be found in a considerably ‘watered down’ form that was
unlikely to pose a health risk.
Dr Andy Croxford, the Environment’s Agency’s policy manager for pesticides,
told The Observer: ‘We need to determine the effects of this low-level,
almost continuous discharge.’
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat’s environment spokesman, said the
revelations exposed a failing by the government on an important public
health issue. He added that the public should be told if they were
inadvertently taking drugs like Prozac.
‘This looks like a case of hidden mass medication upon the unsuspecting
public,’ Baker said. ‘It is alarming that there is no monitoring of levels
of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water.’
Experts say that Prozac finds its way into rivers and water systems from
treated sewage water. Some believe the drugs could affect their reproductive
European studies have also expressed disquiet over the impact of
pharmaceuticals building up in the environment, warning that an effect on
wildlife and human health ‘cannot be excluded’.
‘It is extremely unlikely that there is a risk, as such drugs are excreted
in very low concentrations,’ a DWI spokesman said. ‘Advanced treatment
processes installed for pesticide removal are effective in removing drug
residues,’ he added.
2004, Observer UK