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From the Townsend Letter
October 2006


Call to Action: Doctors to Help Prevent Environmental Pollution

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Sustainable Health Care Practices Provide Alternatives to the Threat of Rising Environmental Toxicity

Amidst the onslaught of bad news disseminated daily about toxins in our environment and the corresponding negative repercussions to our health, the Teleosis Institute has released a roadmap of positive, direct actions that citizens and health professionals can take to be part of the solution.

"Discussing phthalates, BCPs, formaldehyde, and arsenic not only requires the use of words we can barely pronounce, it also seems to numb our senses," says Teleosis Institute's Founding Director Dr. Joel Kreisberg. Instead, Dr. Kreisberg's health publication, Symbiosis: The Journal of Ecologically Sustainable Medicine, provides readers with current research and data that shows the urgency of the topic and offers simple steps people can take to reduce the negative impacts of environmental degradation on human health.
(Visit to read a free Symbiosis article: "There is Medicine in These Waters.)

Among the urgent issues discussed in the just-released volume of Symbiosis – which focuses on our relationship with toxins in the environment – is the prevalent appearance of commonly used medicine in our drinking water. Our municipal drinking water typically contains 100 or so pharmaceutical drugs and personal care products in significant concentrations.1 Various medicines, including hormones, antidepressants, hypertension- and cholesterol-reducing medications, and antibiotics end up in our waterways.2 A recent study3 found that a mixture of 13 common medications from drinking water inhibited cell growth and caused negative changes to human embryonic cells.

"When dealing with our society's waste stream, we have not yet come to grips with the fact that hormones and antibiotics are being washed back into our oceans, our animals, and our food products," Kreisberg explains. "Pharmaceuticals are used at a very high cost to us; they end up in our environment or in our bodies. Did you know that the average baby born in the United States right now has over 200 chemicals in their system?"

In response to this situation, Teleosis advocates for the implementation of sustainable medical practices as a first line of defense before pharmaceutical drugs are indiscriminately prescribed. The current issue of Symbiosis offers a checklist for physicians that includes the following:

  • taking cost-effectiveness and environmental impact into account when comparing medications that are equally safe and suitable for the purpose
  • prescribing starter packs and/or refill packs, if available
  • learning more about drugs that have large environmental impacts by using the web site, and by asking for information from the pharmaceutical company representatives

For consumers, the simple pollution prevention solution proposed in Symbiosis is to return unused medications to a participating pharmacy rather than flush them down the toilet.

Kreisberg explains that with rising populations, pharmacological agents will continue to emerge as unsuspected chemical pollutants. "It is our job as health professionals to create 'clean medicine,' which is a part of Green Health Care." Kreisberg says that Green Health Care requires not only that a workplace be healthy for its occupants; Green Health Care involves medical practices that do no harm to people or the environment. "While current medical practices generate significant pollution, we do have health care options that generate little if any waste. We can and must choose these more enlightened practices," states Kreisberg.

The current issue of Symbiosis also provides readers with guidelines on choosing less toxic household cleaners; using integrative medicine, which offers far less toxic treatments for the environment; and spending time in the sun wisely by using sunscreen that does no harm to its user or the environment.

1. Hemminger P. Damming the flow of drugs into drinking water. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2005;113(10): A678-A681.
2. Kolpin D, et al. Pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic wastewater contaminants in US streams, 1999-2000: a national reconnaissance. Environmental Science and Technology. 2002; 26: 1202-1211. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2006.
3. Pomati F, Castiglioni S, Zuccato E, Fanelli R, Vigetti D, Rossetti C, Calamari D. Effects of a complex mixture of therapeutic drugs at environmental levels on human embryonic cells. Environmental Science & Technology. 2006; 40(7):2442-2447.

The Teleosis Institute is an educational not-for-profit organization devoted to developing effective, sustainable health care provided by professionals who serve as environmental stewards. Its Green Health Care Program is an integral process for health professionals committed to improving human and environmental health. Symbiosis is a quarterly online publication available to its members. Visit for more information.

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September 20, 2006