Daily Archives: March 10, 2008

Vast array of drugs found in drinking water

Associated Press | Mar 9, 2008

Heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

By JEFF DONN, MARTHA MENDOZA and JUSTIN PRITCHARD

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

“We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

_Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city’s watersheds.

_Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

_Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco’s drinking water.

_The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

_Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven’t: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP’s investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation’s water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city’s water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP’s questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren’t in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City’s upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.

He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. “Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail,” Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don’t necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry’s main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.

Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

Strip search cameras to be deployed at rail stations and shopping centers

Sunday Times | Mar 9, 2008

Likely to increase fears that Britain has become a surveillance society.

Jonathan Leake, Science Edit

A CAMERA that can see through people’s clothing at distances of up to 80ft has been developed to help detect weapons, drugs and explosives.

The camera could be deployed in railway stations, shopping centres and other public spaces.

Although it can see objects under clothes, its designers say the images do not show anatomical details. However, it is likely to increase fears that Britain has become a surveillance society.

The new technology, known as the T5000 system, has attracted interest from police forces, train companies and airport operators as well as government agencies.

It has been developed by ThruVision, an Oxfordshire-based company spun out from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of the government’s leading physics research centres.

It was designed for use in spacecraft and astronomy but researchers soon realised that cameras capable of seeing through clouds of cosmic dust could also see through clothing. This week the camera will be displayed at the Home Office scientific development branch’s annual exhibition, Britain’s premier showcase for security equipment, to be held on an RAF airbase in Buckinghamshire.

ThruVision already offers a smaller system designed for office foyers that can scan through clothing at a range of 30ft-40ft.

This has been used at the Canary Wharf complex in east London, which is home to several global banks and is regarded as a target for terrorists. The Dubai Mercantile Exchange has a similar installation.

The system can be linked to a computer so that it can automatically scan anyone passing and alert its human operator to anything suspicious. Clive Beattie, ThruVision’s chief executive, said: “Acts of terrorism have shaken the world in recent years and security precautions have been tightened globally. The T5000 dramatically extends the range over which we can scan people.”

Bill Foster, the president of Thermal Matrix, an American defence contractor specialising in imaging systems for the US military, is one customer. He said: “This could be deployed at major sporting events, concerts and rail stations as well as for military use.”

The technology works by detecting and measuring terahertz waves, or T-waves for short. These are a form of electromagnetic radiation, emitted by all people and objects that lie between the infrared and microwave parts of the spectrum.

The waves from any given material also carry a distinctive signature, offering the potential to distinguish Semtex from modelling clay and cocaine from sugar.

Secretive Freemasons open royal lodge at Buckingham Palace

Daily Mail | Mar 8, 2008

By SARAH OLIVER

A branch of the Freemasons secret society is being formed by members of the Royal Household and police who protect the Royal Family.

And their decision to call it The Royal Household Lodge has put them on a collision course with Buckingham Palace – as has their plan to co-opt the royal cipher – EIIR – for their regalia, to underline their connection to the Queen.

Although the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent, is head of the secretive organisation – he is Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England – the new branch has not gone down well with the Royal Family.

The Palace has no power to halt the formation of the lodge, but it is determined to stop it adopting its chosen name and block it from hijacking the Queen’s EIIR.

Use of the Royal Household title and any related symbols requires official permission.

Angry officials clearly feel the new lodge’s proposed name is the last thing the Palace needs at a time when it is trying to be seen as more modern and open.

Last night, a spokesman for the Queen said: “Buckingham Palace has not, and would not, endorse this sort of arrangement. No permission has been given by the Palace for a Buckingham Palace lodge or anything similar.

“If permission is sought, it will be declined.”

The founding of the lodge has also alarmed some Royal staff who do not wish to be associated with the fraternity famed for bizarre initiation rites, mystical regalia and mysterious codes of conduct.

It is also likely to cause consternation among career women in the Palace, as it is a men-only organisation.

Non-members in Royal service are said to be fearful they will be overlooked for prestigious promotions and left unsupported in any below-stairs clashes.

Masons are widely believed to further the business and professional interests of brother Masons, although they would deny this and claim it is a harmless social and charitable organisation.

The lodge, which will not meet at the Palace but will be based in a Masonic Hall elsewhere, will be open to all members of the Royal Household, from armed police protection officers to below-stairs staff such as pages and footmen.

It will also recruit staff in other Royal residences including Windsor Castle, Clarence House and St James’s Palace.

A Palace insider said: “There’s a lot of consternation and rightly so. People fear a lot of business will now be conducted behind closed doors so that those who don’t sign up to Freemasonry can’t have any effect on it.

“They are concerned that Masons will be preferred and those who aren’t Masons will be written out of the script.

“Backstairs life is already complicated enough – there are all sorts of allegiances and cliques and cabals. People fall in and out of favour and there’s a lot of whispering in ears.

“The last thing the household needs is a secret society, especially one with the reputation of Freemasonry.”

The United Grand Lodge of England issued the Royal Household Lodge with a warrant in June last year although it will not formally exist until the consecration ceremony on May 19 at the Freemasons’ Hall in London.

That will be followed by a celebration dinner for up to 300 Masons and their guests at the historic Lincoln’s Inn.

The insider said the idea had been generated by serving and past members of the Royalty Protection Squad, SO14. With new recruits, the total number involved is approximately 70.

Author and broadcaster Martin Short, whose book Inside The Brotherhood exposed Masonic practices in the UK, said: “It’s a catastrophic time to start such a lodge, given all the problems facing the Royal Family at present.

“The Royal Family is desperately trying to prove it is modernising – in PR terms, this is bad news for them.”

More bones found at children’s home in abuse investigation

Press Association | Mar 9, 2008

Further pieces of bone have reportedly been unearthed by forensic teams at a former Jersey care home where it is claimed children were raped and flogged.

Coveup alleged

The fragments have been found at Haut de la Garenne as police complete their search of an underground chamber at the home and the fields surrounding it, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.

Earlier, sorrow for the victims of alleged child abuse and anger at a claimed “culture of secrecy” on the island brought residents out on to the streets. The crowd laid daffodils at the door of the government building, both as symbol of hope for the future and to represent lives shattered by abuse.

Several hundred people gathered in Royal Square, St Helier, outside the main government building to voice their support for those alleging abuse at Haut de la Garenne and to call for political change.

Former residents of the home, many of whom found their memories too painful to speak about, stood in the crowd. A number wept silently as they listened to speakers from the newly formed Time 4 Change, a group calling for an end to what they say is “a culture of secrecy” in Jersey.

The bones, which are believed to be human remains, add to the grim discovery two weeks ago of the partial remains of a child buried in a stairwell.

Tests will have to be run on the bones before officers can confirm if they were human. Officers are also waiting for the analysis of blood spots found on Friday on a concrete bath in the same cellar.

Police are reportedly now poised to make three arrests in the next two weeks, two in Jersey and one in the UK mainland.

The man leading the investigation, Jersey’s deputy chief officer Lenny Harper, told the newspaper that police are concerned that one incident could have lead to the death of a child.

Officers also fear, reports the newspaper, that bones could have been removed from the home as recently as five years ago, either accidentally or in a deliberate attempt by perpetrators to cover their tracks.