The Fate of Our Pharmaceuticals

Stern College Student Melissa Kramer Examines The Effects of Pharmaceutical Contamination in Summer Internship

Up to 90 percent of a pharmaceutical can leave the body in its active form, meaning that drugs we ingest every day enter the environment via waste water. What happens to those chemicals left behind after waste water processing, and can they have adverse effects on the people and animals that come in contact with that water? Melissa Kramer, a senior at Stern College for Women, spent 10 weeks this summer trying to find out.

melissa kramer

Melissa Kramer

As part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the College of Charleston, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, Kramer studied pharmaceutical contamination in the Grice Marine Laboratory, joining a select group of nine other students from around the country who shared a similar passion for marine biology.

“The goal of the program was to explore the resilience and response of marine organisms to environmental change,” said Kramer, a biology major from Brooklyn, New York.

Working under the guidance of Dr. Satomi Kohno of the Medical University of South Carolina, Kramer investigated the impact of hormone-like chemicals left behind after waste water processing. Although waste water undergoes microbial and chemical treatment, most plants are not equipped to remove pharmaceuticals. By assessing the ability of treated waste water to activate estrogen and progesterone receptors, Kramer determined that the waste water entering the Charleston harbor contained concentrated amounts of progesterone, which could affect the reproductive health of exposed aquatic animals, as well as people who eat seafood from the harbor.

“It was a very unique experience,” said Kramer. “In addition to working on our individual research projects, the group took different fieldwork expeditions where we learned a lot. We went on boats and trawled along the water at the bottom of the harbor, examining and learning about different species of fish. I hope to complete other internships in the field of marine biology in the future.”

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