Traces of Prozac in tap water.
Britons could unwittingly be swallowing traces of anti- depressant Prozac and other drugs in drinking water, according to a report. Environmentalists have labelled the situation 'hidden mass medication of the unsuspecting public' after the study states pharmaceutical residues can travel through the sewage system and end up in the 'aquatic environment'.
The levels of any such residue is unknown, and the Environment Agency has called on the drugs industry to prove its products are unlikely to cause significant harm to the environment.
According to the study by Norman Baker MP, Liberal Democrat shadow environment secretary, Prozac has been found by the EA to be 'both toxic and persistent' and 'a substance that could be of potential concern'. There has been a 166% increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants in England since 1991 - up to 24 million a year.
Mr Baker said, 'This looks like a case of hidden mass medication of the unsuspecting public and is potentially a very worrying health issue.
'The Government is quite simply not taking its responsibility to public health seriously. It is alarming that there is no monitoring of levels of Prozac and other pharmacy residues in our drinking water.
'There is also no evidence that filtration eliminates these contaminants from water and Ministers don't even know which waterworks are fitted with which filtering devices.
'From start to finish this is a demonstration of staggering complacency from a 'don't know, don't care' Government. The public has a right to know what's in our water supplies and whether they are inadvertently taking drugs like Prozac.'
Last year, the Environment Agency completed research focusing on pharmaceuticals.
In its study, the agency reviewed 500 of the most commonly used pharmaceuticals in England and Wales and monitored 12 thought to pose the greatest potential environmental threat, including painkillers, antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs and anti depressants. Of these, 10 were found in sewage treatment work effluents and eight were detected in the rivers receiving these effluents.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said, 'It is extremely unlikely that there is a risk, as such drugs are excreted in very low concentrations and biodegraded.'