Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Indian Antibiotic Cocktails

My Drink of Choice

The mixed-bag that is modern pharmaceuticals has found its way into the water supplies of Patancheru, India, in fabulous quantities.  Says chemist Klaus Kuemmerer in an MSNBC report, “If you just swallow a few gasps of water, you’re treated for everything.”  The water is a cocktail of 21 different active ingredients used in generic drugs to treat, “hypertension, heart disease, liver ailments, depression, ulcers, gonorrhea . . .”

The problem, of course, is not only that daily consumption of this special punch is measurably bad for the Patancheru ecosystem (humans included), but it also increases the rate at which bacteria will evolve into untreatable forms.  So here’s another one for the Great American Freakout, transom–the pharmaceutical system is doing its darndest to give us super-bugs.  Enough of the antibiotic cyprofloxin is daily drained into this Indian water system to treat a city of 90,000.

It is true that India’s chemical dumping regulations are more lax than they are in countries in the U.S., but the plants that produce generics flourish because of the inflated prices of drugs in the U.S.A.  The discovery of drugs in the Indian water (at 150 times the levels of U.S. water sources) raises old questions of how to account for the unintended consequences of scientific advances.  Is the answer increased regulation?  Acceptance that there will always be harmful fallout?  Or should we stop “trying to fight nature” altogether?  Should we burn Alexander Flemming in effigy?

(thanks to the excellent architect-cultural-environmental BLDGBLOG for turning me on to this story).


  1. Strangely, just had a conversation about this last night. Strikes me that we’re in between two modeled systems here and we don’t know which fits. Do we let the “free market” of natural selection take care of our interaction with our environment? Or, are we just inventive enough as a species, and just enough out of control that we act over and above nature’s feedback mechanisms?

    I don’t know.

    These questions can be asked another way in regards to our ontological locus. Is our locus the natural or the technological? It seems that an answer to this question begins to tease apart answers to the dilemma posed in your post.

  2. Right. I think the distinction between the technological and the natural is helpful insofar as it gets at the issue of our relationship to the natural (dis)order. How much power do we have to affect the biosphere? And even if we have power are we just nature’s puppets?

    Of course, there is always the possibility that we have more than one ontological locus, more than one location for our being. Maybe we derive our being both from nature and from the technical. It also becomes difficult (as it does with any binary) to maintain a strict delineation between nature and technology. It seems pretty obvious that a jumbo jet is NOT natural. But if we are a part of nature, then how can our inventions exist in a different sphere? Or maybe, as Zizek claims, once we have life 2.0, everything else is automatically life 1.0. So maybe its technology all the way down.

    This reminds me of issues raised in The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace by Margaret Wertheim, in which Wertheim argues that cyberspace is the new sphere for the “I,” or the “soul.” She maintains that the dominant materialist cosmologies have left us without a theoretical space for phenomena that we consider extra-physical (the soul, identity, the “I”). For her, Cyberspace has opened up that spiritual space again. Wertheim’s answer to the charge that cyberspace is a physical phenomenon is not to deny its physicality but to describe it as an “emergent phenomenon”–a complex phenomenon that arises out of a multiplicity of simple interactions, but that cannot be reduced to its simple components.

    I don’t think Wertheim’s arguments (whatever they are worth) solve any of these questions, but they do provide another frame for thinking nature-technology.

  3. Cyberspace may actually end up providing us with eternal life. But that is a few years away. Meanwhile, we still exist here in meatspace, getting drugged by our upstream neighbors’ urine. Fun.

  4. Yeah, it’s real fun. The MSNBC report quoted one of the inhabitants of Patancheru as saying that when government official come to visit they won’t drink any of the water offered to them.

  5. Luckily for me, I have a deep well at the base of a state forest watershed, and my only upstream neighbors are woodpeckers, deer and bobcats. But I’m not always at the house.

    If there was ever a time to filter your water, and eat low on the food chain, it is now.

  6. I don’t know, sounds like vegan propaganda to me.