The United Kingdom's Environment Agency, the equivalent of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, announced last month that the SSRI fluoxetine
(Prozac) was being taken in such large amounts that it was showing up in
Britain's drinking water. The finding was first reported in Britain's the
Britain's Drinking Water Inspectorate noted that the drug "was likely
to be found in a considerably watered down form that is unlikely to pose any
health risk." Nevertheless, environmentalists are calling on the
government to order an urgent investigation and labeling the slow buildup of
the excreted antidepressant into the water a "hidden mass
An environmental spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat political party in
Britain, Norman Baker, told the Observer, "these revelations
expose a failing by the government on an important public health issue. It is
alarming that there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy
residues in our drinking water."
Other critics of antidepressant medication noted that the new finding is
just the latest evidence that general practitioners in Britain are
overprescribing fluoxetine, the British National Health Service's
antidepressant of choice. In the decade ending in 2001, prescriptions for
fluoxetine rose from 9 million to 24 million per year.
Environmental experts noted the drug finds its way into rivers and water
systems from treated sewage water. Treatment systems were never designed to
eliminate pharmaceutical residues in drinking water, and it is likely, they
added, that other drugs are present as well.
"It is extremely unlikely that there is a risk," countered a
spokesman for the Drinking Water Inspectorate. "Advanced treatment
processes installed for pesticide removal are effective in removing drug
residues as well." ▪