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Waste & Disease

Pharmaceuticals in Our Waters

Recent research has revealed amounts of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and other bioactive compounds in our waterways. According to USGS research on fish in the Potomac watershed, these compounds may be affecting aquatic species. Testing for these compounds in our waterways and drinking water will be conducted by USGS with the support of PA DEP. Please take a look at this video of J. Kent Crawford, Water Quality Specialist for the Pennsylvania Water Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, as he presents information at an Environmental Forum hosted by the Joint Air & Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee: http://paenvirodigestvideo.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.html

National Institute of Standards and Technology: Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have published an interesting study that sheds light on the fate of a familiar pharmaceutical as it enters the waste stream. In work initially described in NIST TechBeat last year, NIST chemists investigated probable chemical reactions involving acetaminophen when the drug is subjected to typical wastewater processing. Acetaminophen is the most widely used pain reliever in the United States, and a study of 139 streams by the U.S. Geological Survey found that it was one of the most frequently detected man-made chemicals.

The scientists found that the drug readily reacts in chlorine disinfection to form at least 11 new products, at least two of which are known to be toxic. The results, according to lead author Mary Bedner, demonstrate that environmental scientists need to be concerned about downstream reaction products as well as the original waste materials. The issue is what you should be looking for in the environment, she says. When you are looking for the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment, you need to ask what they’re going to turn into.

Susquehanna Smallmouth Bass Die-Offs & Intersex Mutations

Read the full paper, Transformation of Acetaminophen by Chlorination Produces the Toxicants 1,4-Benzoquinone and N-Acetyl-p-benzoquinone Imine.
Smallmouth Bass Disease (Columnaris)

The Riverkeeper® has attended conferences on fish diseases in the Mid-Atlantic States, and met and talked with the premier scientists in this field. Some of them will be coming to PA soon to test the Susquehanna and her tributaries. We are working to have a temperature gauge installed at Harrisburg, but additional funds must be raised to have these temperatures recorded as data. The cost is approximately $2500 for 5 years. Please let us know if your group or agency can help.

We are working with biologists and state agencies to determine the causes of the disease explosion among the Smallmouth Bass population. The current theory is a combination of hot water and additional nutrients, but excess sewage may play a role. Recent studies in the Shenandoah revealed 100% bisexual characteristics in fish on a small tributary exposed to Ag runoff. Approximately 80% bisexual characteristics have been observed in other parts of the watershed.

Vicki Blazer, an expert biologist from USGS, published an excellent research paper correlating endocrine disruptors in waters effects on fish biology. Read the report for yourself!

Susquehanna University Cancer Anomaly

Legislation efforts continue as more contamination is found near Selinsgrove. Below is a letter written to Mark Cohen when House Bill 1015 was being proposed.

Dear Representative Cohen,

I am grateful for your efforts on monitoring illnesses and possible environmental causes simultaneously.  It appears that there is a gap in the Commonwealth’s system for reviewing these matters.  You may have read in the Patriot News that more contaminants have been discovered at the Susquehanna University site and the removal of more toxins is planned.  Your actions have assisted in the scrutiny of this issue, and will undoubtedly help other Commonwealth citizens in dealing with historic pollution and public health concerns.

I was unable to make time to help as you introduced your legislation, however I would like to have an update and be of assistance in passing this legislation and establishing a link between PA DEP and the Dept. of Epidemiology.  The Selinsgrove case was a disappointing example of why we need to put some additional resources into this problem, that will likely occur again in the future.  Thanks, and keep me posted.

From the Mighty Susquehanna, Michael R Helfrich
Lower Susquehanna RIVERKEEPER®

Linda Kadel, the mother from Susqehanna University who first lost her son then compiled the data on a possible cancer cluster sent this letter of thanks and offered more assistance.


Anything I can do on this issue- please let me know. I think it is a good common sense bill that needs to be implemented in PA. I will travel to Harrisburg, if requested or needed. I believe NJ has something similar in place.

As a mother, Michael, I felt that I consistently hit a brick wall in trying to get someone to look at this issue. There were many a night that I thought of putting it all behind me. Thanks to people like you, Ford Turner and Rep Cohen maybe the next person dealing with this issue will be helped along in their search for answers.

You give me hope- there are good people in this world who genuinely care.

Warm regards,

P.S. I would love to see federal standards for allowable contaminates. It strikes me as odd that different states can have different allowables. I cannot begin to understand the reasoning behind that.

29 MAR 07: Cohen introduces bill to monitor and investigate Pa. illness cluster

Update: A letter from Linda Kadel (see Background below) prompted an investigation by the Geisinger Center for Health Research. Based on the elevated cancer death rate in the area, the Geisinger investigator recommended an ‘appropriate agency response’ from the Bureau of Epidemiology. Read the Geisinger findings here. Read how the PA Department of Health responded here and the response from the President of Susquhanna University.

Your Riverkeeper® has been contacted by more concerned citizens from Selinsgrove and, shortly after, the Harrisburg Patriot brought the story to light. There are definitely environmental concerns in the area that were not accounted for when the Pennsylvania Bureau of Epidemiology made their recommendation for no further studies. Further research is now being done.

This issue has also sparked a bill in the PA House to have a link created between DEP and the PA Dept of Health. “Concerned by the recent cancer investigations at Susquehanna University, and other similar illness investigations, state Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Phila., has introduced legislation that would create an Illness Monitoring and Investigation Unit within the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” said the press release from the PA House Democratic Website. Find more info at http://www.pahouse.com/PR/202032907.asp

Background: The Riverkeeper® is working with the parents of Patrick Kadel, graduate of Susquehanna University ’97, who was diagnosed in Feb 2001 and died in July 2002 of aggressive osteo sarcoma. Mrs. Kadel has compiled a database of over 50 students and staff of Susquehanna University who have contracted cancer in the last few years.



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What is sludge?  Picture everything that gets flushed or rinsed down the drain in your home. In America, we don’t separate our household and industrial waste so all the human waste, cleaners, poisons, soaps, and pharmaceutical combine with the waste of every business, industry, school and hospital to create a toxic stew that collects at …

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