Birth control pills, cancer drugs and a host of other pharmaceuticals that people flush down the drain every day are showing up in our drinking water, says Gord Miller, Ontario's environmental commissioner.
"We need to do a better job of keeping drugs out of lakes, rivers and drinking water," Miller told the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on Wednesday.
Although the drugs are not considered a threat to human health, there is evidence that they can harm wildlife.
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"There is no health hazard in drinking water now that has been detected in Canada, but we have detected substances in drinking water," he said, adding that the problem is likely to get worse rather than better as the population grows.
"Our society loves to pop pills," Miller said. "If you were designing the perfect pollutant it would probably look like a pill."
Miller was sworn in as environmental commissioner six years ago to oversee the implementation of Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights. He is an independent officer of Queen's Park, where he reports on government compliance with environmental rules.
In his last annual report, Miller said contraceptives, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs and blood-pressure drugs are showing up in lakes and rivers, while anti-inflammatory and anti-cholesterol drugs and antidepressants are ending up in drinking water.
Experiments in northern Ontario have shown that exposure to these waste drugs has led to the feminization of male fish, delayed reproduction in female fish and damage to kidneys and livers of both sexes, the report said.
Independent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States and by environmental bodies in England have turned up similar evidence.
Miller said pharmaceuticals are getting into drinking water in several ways. Unused drugs are thrown into domestic garbage, which end up in landfill sites and eventually into the groundwater.
Drugs are taken orally and flushed down toilets as human excrement. And unused drugs are washed down the sink or flushed down the toilet directly into domestic sewers.
Many drugs pass right through the sewage and water treatment plants, back into the drinking water.
"Sewage treatment plants aren't designed to remove them," Miller said.