Residue from pharmaceuticals like acetaminophen, caffeine, dexketoprofen, phenylephrine and ibuprofen have been found in the Villalobos and Las Vacas rivers in Guatemala.
El Periodico quoted Elisandra Hernández, a researcher with the air and water monitoring lab at the University of San Carlos, who took samples from the Villalobos and Las Vacas rivers for 30 and 34 days, respectively. These rivers were chosen as they are "the principal tributaries for wastewater coming from Guatemala City."
Hernández said pharmaceuticals had gotten in the water through "both treated and untreated domestic wastewater, in excreta."
Amanda Morán of the Urban and Regional Studies Center of University of San Carlos of Guatemala said 97 percent of sewage is released without any treatment into rivers and streams. She carried out a study that found that conventional wastewater treatment and potabilization plants are not designed to eliminate pharmaceuticals.
Jon Iñaki Álvarez Uriarte of Vasco, Spain’s Public Health Laboratory of the Environmental Chemicals Unit, who also worked on Morán’s study, said these types of chemicals are not included in monitoring programs, and may be an important risk because of their possible toxic effects.
According to Hernández, "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 head of the hydrochemical laboratory at the Guatemalan National Institute for Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology (Insivumeh), Claudia Cordero, said her agency looks for a variety of substances in water, including nutrients, nitrates, phosphates, pesticides, arsenic, or heavy metals, depending on the study.
However, the laboratory does not look for pharmaceuticals, she said.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources does not include pharmaceuticals in its parameters for analysis of wastewater, El Periodico reported.
This story is brought to readers free in association with Singapore International Water Week.