Even More Bad Things about Water

So, though previous posts didn’t have as much to do with current and breaking news, it both amused and frightened me this morning to read this article of recent studies into the trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water.  Evidently the badness of water is on the rise, amusing me with the image of water-as-villain.  Also amusing me was the name of one of the men interviewed for the article: Benjamin Grumbles.

There are issues of legitimacy associated with the report, of course.  All the compilation of data was done by the Associated Press, with an angle to prove…something.  At least with the idea of supporting a story.  And what headline would break: Trace Amounts of Prescriptions in Water Found Harmless to Humans?  Still, I think the idea merits further review.  Could trace amounts of a wide variety of prescriptions be damaging to our long-term health?  Could these same trace amounts have a negative impact on wildlife, or come back to haunt us once they’ve completely penetrated our aquifers and surface water?  How long do these medicines remain in our system, and could they build up in higher organisms (i.e., do animals eating many plants with trace amounts build up a higher dose in their bodies, and what effect might this have?)  Also, if trace amounts are getting through our water purification system, are there ways to modify the system to eliminate these trace amounts?

Ultimately these are questions that need to be answered by a mostly impartial group of researchers.  Which brings us to other questions.  Who will research it?  What should be done?  And most important, who’s going to bankroll the whole thing?  Obviously not the pharmaceutical companies, and not the water treatment organizations (many of which refused to be tested for the article).  The government?  I would guess that ultimately, you and I will be paying, one way or another.


As a result of continuing bouts of illness, Mike and I have recently tried a new product – Vicks Vapo Steam.  This stuff you put in your humidifier during the night and it steams the medicine pleasantly out into your bedroom.  It smells like the VapoRub, but I was surprised to find that it’s made up entirely of camphor.  I didn’t know at the time what the rub was made of (it turns out that the active ingredients are camphor, eucalyptol, and menthol), but camphor just didn’t sound right.  it sounded like something close to castor oil, or some kind of insect repellant.

It turns out that isn’t far from the truth.  Camphor is sometimes used as a moth deterrent.  It’s also used as a rust preventative and in embalming.  And as medicine.  Though it isn’t used orally, the stuff is pretty universally happy for you.  It’s an antimicrobial.  It also works as a local anesthetic, a cough supressant, and occasionally in small doses as a treatment for ‘minor heart symptoms and fatigue’.

The whole use against fatigue may explain why some Chinese students use jin long feng you jin,  (Golden Dragon Oil) to stay awake during study – it also contains camphor.  Several products contain both menthol and camphor.  Along with Vicks Vapo Rub, these are Bengay and Tiger Balm.  There’s supposed to be an anti-itch cream that uses camphor as well, but I couldn’t quickly find out which one it was.  Just be careful – ingested in quantity, the stuff is highly toxic.