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Drugs in Water Tied To Fish Defects
[Rachel's Introduction: Pharmaceuticals in the water are being blamed for severe reproductive problems in many types of fish. There are problems with other wildlife as well: kidney failure in vultures, impaired reproduction in mussels, inhibited growth in algae.]
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By Jeff Donn and Martha Mendoza Justin Pritchard, AP
LAKE MEAD, Nev. --On this brisk, glittering morning, a flat-bottomed boat glides across the massive reservoir that provides Las Vegas its drinking water. An ominous rumble growls beneath the craft as its two long, electrified claws extend into the depths.

Moments later, dozens of stunned fish float to the surface.

Federal scientists scoop them up and transfer them into 50-quart Coleman ice chests for transport to a makeshift lab on the dusty lakeshore. Within the hour, the researchers will club the seven-pound common carps to death, draw their blood, snip out their gonads and pack them in aluminum foil and dry ice.

The specimens will be flown across the country to laboratories where aquatic toxicologists are studying what happens to fish that live in water contaminated with at least 13 different medications -- from over-the-counter pain killers to prescription antibiotics and mood stabilizers.

More often than not these days, the laboratory tests bring unwelcome results.

A five-month Associated Press investigation has determined that trace amounts of many of the pharmaceuticals we take to stay healthy are seeping into drinking water supplies, and a growing body of research indicates that this could harm humans.

But people aren't the only ones who consume that water. There is more and more evidence that some animals that live in or drink from streams and lakes are seriously affected.

Pharmaceuticals in the water are being blamed for severe reproductive problems in many types of fish: The endangered razorback sucker and male fathead minnow have been found with lower sperm counts and damaged sperm; some walleyes and male carp have become what are called feminized fish, producing egg yolk proteins typically made only by females.

Meanwhile, female fish have developed male genital organs. Also, there are skewed sex ratios in some aquatic populations, and sexually abnormal bass that produce cells for both sperm and eggs.

There are problems with other wildlife as well: kidney failure in vultures, impaired reproduction in mussels, inhibited growth in algae.

"We have no reason to think that this is a unique situation," says Erik Orsak, an environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pulling off rubber gloves splattered with fish blood at Lake Mead. "We find pretty much anywhere we look, these compounds are ubiquitous."

Senators to hold hearings on drugs in water

Two veteran U.S. senators said Monday they plan to hold hearings in response to an Associated Press investigation into the presence of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.

Also, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., has asked the EPA to establish a national task force to investigate the issue and make recommendations to Congress on any legislative actions needed.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, chairman of the Transportation, Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee, said the oversight hearings would likely be held in April.

Boxer, D-Calif., said she was "alarmed at the news" that pharmaceuticals are turning up in the nation's drinking water, while Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who said he was "deeply concerned" by the AP findings, both represent states where pharmaceuticals had been detected in drinking water supplies, but not disclosed to the public.