And these aren't soft drugs; they include methamphetamine and amphetamine
. They're messing with the growth and development of organisms in local streams.
It appears aquatic life -- the moss that grows on rocks, the bacteria that live in the water and the bugs that hatch there -- are the unexpected victims of Americans' struggle with drug addiction.
The study is published
in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The water was tested by scientists working with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
who looked at six streams in and around Baltimore. The residue was particularly high in the water they tested in urban settings.
Since the researchers wanted to know whether these drugs had a direct impact on life in these waters, they created an artificial stream, complete with rocks and plants, and exposed it to the same level of amphetamine residue they found in natural waters.
After only a few weeks, the plants and bugs showed signs of being affected.
The growth of biofilms -- the slippery organisms you find on rocks at the bottom of streams -- was suppressed after exposure to this drugs. Bacterial life changed. Bugs that lived in the water developed quicker and emerged sooner.
Drug-addicted water bugs may not be on the top of your regular list of things to worry about, and it doesn't mean you'll be getting high off your tap water any time soon, but the kind of change these scientists saw could be a bigger concern.
Here's why: These plants and bugs are the base of the aquatic food web. Birds eat the bugs, as do frogs and fish. As emergent contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors become more common in ground and drinking water, they could affect humans. Scientists say the direct health effects are pretty much unknown, and more research will need to be done.
This is not the first study to find drugs in water where drugs shouldn't be. Studies
have found the presence of other personal care products and drugs such as antidepressants, antibiotics, antihistamines, blood thinners, heart medications and hormones in rivers, lakes and streams. A US Geological Survey study done in 1999 and 2000
found some presence of pharmaceuticals in 80% of water samples from a large network of streams in 30 states.
What's different about the new study is that it is one of the first to add methamphetamine and amphetamine to that long list of substances. Few studies have looked at the presence of illicit drugs in such waters.
If you're wondering how in the world it got there, study co-author Emma Rosi-Marshall
believes the root of the problem is our aging water infrastructure.