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Potential future difficulties

As medicine, biology, chemistry, agriculture, and other branches of science develop, we are using an ever more diverse set of chemicals and drugs that do not necessarily degrade when they are disposed of. The Italian river Po example is replicated across the world. Drinking water in London, which has been purified many times, still contains traces of drugs and chemicals that may have entered the water system in Oxford. The contaminant levels may now be detectable, but the cost of purification to totally remove all traces is not only unrealistic but almost certainly not even possible. Nevertheless, many chemicals can both accumulate in certain organs of the body, act in a catalytic role, or both. There are so many examples of such events taking place that I will return to this when discussing some of the dark-side effects of agricultural chemicals. However, the real difficulties may emerge from drugs that we currently think are benign as trace items, but which may eventually be seen to have serious side effects. There are now indications of mutagenic chemicals that do not immediately affect the recipients or their children, but effects emerge in later generations (i.e. grandchildren). If these mutated genes produce serious problems, it will not only be difficult to track back to the original cause, but once a genetic change has taken place, it will not be reversible.

How do we take control?

This would be a rather negative note on which to end the chapter, especially as I suspect the number of examples will significantly increase as we tinker with new biologically active products. The opposite side of this view is that as we gain a better understanding of chemicals and drugs, and their interactions with biological material and the environment, we will be in a stronger position to take effective action to minimize the downside of the reactions. It will also mean that we gain a far better control of what drug usages are needed, and so will reduce the quantities of drugs we use.

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