The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service conducted a reconnaissance study to investigate the occurrence of selected human-health pharmaceutical compounds in water samples collected from Lake Mead on the Colorado River and Las Vegas Wash, a waterway used to transport treated wastewater from the Las Vegas metropolitan area to Lake Mead. Current research indicates many of these compounds can bioaccumulate and may adversely affect aquatic organisms by disrupting physiological processes, impairing reproductive functions, increasing cancer rates, contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and acting in undesirable ways when mixed with other substances. These compounds may be present in effluent because a high percentage of prescription and non-prescription drugs used for human-health purposes are excreted from the body as a mixture of parent compounds and degraded metabolite compounds; also, they can be released to the environment when unused products are discarded by way of toilets, sinks, and trash in landfills.
Thirteen of 33 targeted compounds were detected in at least one water sample collected between October 2000 and August 2001. All concentrations were less than or equal to 0.20 micrograms per liter. The most frequently detected compounds in samples from Las Vegas Wash were caffeine, carbamazepine (used to treat epilepsy), cotinine (a metabolite of nicotine), and dehydronifedipine (a metabolite of the antianginal Procardia). Less frequently detected compounds in samples collected from Las Vegas Wash were antibiotics (clarithromycin, erythromycin, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim), acetaminophen (an analgesic and anti-inflammatory), cimetidine (used to treat ulcers), codeine (a narcotic and analgesic), diltiazem (an antihypertensive), and 1,7-dimethylxanthine (a metabolite of caffeine). Fewer compounds were detected in samples collected from Lake Mead than from Las Vegas Wash. Caffeine was detected in all samples collected from Lake Mead. Other compounds detected in samples collected from Lake Mead were acetaminophen, carbamazepine, cotinine, 1,7-dimethylxanthine, and sulfamethoxazole.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Human-health pharmaceutical compounds in Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona, and Las Vegas Wash, Nevada, October 2000-August 2001