Questions for ‘Leaky sewer pipes pollute urban streams and bays with drugs’

a person wearing gloves and hazardous material gear takes a water sample

In one new study, scientists took weekly water samples to test for medicines polluting streams.

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To accompany Leaky sewer pipes pollute urban streams and bays with drugs’  


Before Reading:

  1. Think about the last time you took any medicine. What do you think happens to those medicines after they move into and begin passing through our tissues? Where might those medicines end up?
  2. Set a timer for 30 seconds and list as many medicines as you can in that time. Pick two and circle them. Then imagine that those drugs ended up in our rivers and oceans. What concerns would you have? For each drug, come up with one possible problem that it could cause for the plants and animals.

During Reading:

  1. Explain step-by-step how the medicines we consume can wind up in streams and rivers. Start with how the medicines leave our bodies. Where may they go next? How prepared are most wastewater treatment plants to handle these medicines?
  2. What additional problems do leaky sewage pipes cause?
  3. In the new study, the creeks sampled and tested for drugs did not receive “treated sewage.” What does “treated sewage” mean? What were Megan Fork and her team able to learn by sampling those creeks not receiving treated sewage?  
  4. How long did the study last?
  5. How many types of drugs did this study find? Which drug showed up the most?
  6. Give one example of how drugged waters may affect a specific animal, such as a crayfish or a fish. Be specific.
  7. Fork and her team discovered that most of the acetaminophen drug came from leaky pipes and therefore did not pass through a wastewater-treatment plant. How did scientists explain that observation?
  8. Researchers in the United Kingdom did a related study and found that “down-the-drain” disposal of medicines had doubled since 2005. What do they mean by “down-the-drain” disposal?
  9. According to Fork, what two things can communities do to manage this issue of drug pollution?

After Reading

  1. Fork states, “People taking drugs they need is not the problem.” What does Fork say is the real problem? Imagine that a person reads this study, then claims that the real problem comes from people taking medicines. What would you tell them? Would you agree or disagree? Then, in two sentences or less, explain your answer.
  2. Take a moment to think about your own home and neighborhood. Where is the closest water source? Even if that water is far away, how might drugs in sewage wind up in that water source? Then, come up with two changes that your home community could make to reduce the amount of drugs leaking into that water source.