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Antidepressants, Hormones & Cocaine Found in Ohio River

Water treatment upgrades could reduce levels of chemicals and pharmaceuical found in drinking water drawn from the Ohio River.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Researchers have detected low concentrations of dozens of chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the Ohio River upstream and downstream from Louisville.

Among the substances found were antidepressants, veterinary hormones and cocaine, The Courier-Journal reported. But the researchers who conducted the study say the contaminants are in extremely low concentrations.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission study, which cost $85,000, looked for 158 contaminants, including 118 pharmaceuticals, hormones and personal care products.

Samples were taken at 22 locations from Pittsburgh to Paducah.

"Just because you find it doesn't mean it's a problem," said Erich Emery, a biologist who worked on the study for the commission, commonly known as ORSANCO.

The 279-page screening survey is almost entirely made up of raw data. ORSANCO, which partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the survey, is working on a final report to be completed early next year.

Peter Tennant, deputy director of the commission, said researchers are not sure that the levels of what they found need to be reduced.

"It would be nice if we had a better sense of which chemicals to worry about," Tennant said.

A scientist who was not involved in the study but reviewed the data said some of the pollutants have been tied to feminization of male fish.

"When we see something this basic being altered in fish, we should be concerned about what it's doing to our own health," said biologist Peter DeFur, a research associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The drugs that were detected in the river water include some commonly prescribed medications, said Dr. George Bosse, medical director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Center in Louisville. The study found medications used to fight depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and infection.

Also frequently detected was caffeine, cocaine and nicotine from tobacco products.

Officials in Louisville, which draws its drinking water from the Ohio River, said their current treatment already removes some contaminants identified by the survey.

Water and sewer officials say the contaminants could be reduced further as they upgrade their plants to meet new standards for unrelated pollutants.