- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor says researchers need to keep an eye on the amount of prescription medicines that make it into the Tennessee River.

Professor of biological and environmental sciences Sean Richards has spent years analyzing samples from the Tennessee River between Chattanooga and Knoxville. He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1qvR2aX) that he and a team of researchers found trace amounts of 13 different drugs in 160 samples taken from the river.

He says concentration levels will rise as the population increases.

There are about 24,000 unique pharmaceuticals used regularly in the U.S., but he says they are made up of about 3,400 active ingredients such as acetaminophen in Tylenol or fluoxetine in Prozac.

Richards says he tested for 14 active ingredients in various medicines that people take. He says although the concentrations were low, they were pervasive.

The levels he found aren’t harmful to humans, but he said it’s unclear whether they are harmful to the environment.

“After 14 years of this line of research I’ve learned that first, really high concentrations (of most chemicals) can have a negative effect. Two aspirin will kill your headache, and 200 aspirin will kill you,” Richards said. “The thing that worries me is we are constantly putting these things in the environment. The environment isn’t getting a break.”

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com