How Manufacturing and Human Waste Contribute to Painkiller Pollution, MASSAGE MagazineTo complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Expert Advice: How can I discuss the environmental benefits of massage therapy with my clients?” by Marybetts Sinclair, in the March 2014 issue. Article summary: Massage is effective at soothing many types of pain—and massage can also be a good choice for the environment. The reason for this is while medications can relieve pain, they also have environmental side effects. Although we certainly can’t suggest clients stop taking pain medication, we can educate ourselves about detrimental effects pharmaceuticals have on our environment and raise clients’ consciousness when appropriate.

Water is used extensively throughout the drug-manufacturing process, from mixing and processing medications to washing and sanitizing the plant’s machinery afterward. During these processes, water in a factory becomes contaminated with active pharmaceutical ingredients. From there, factories dump water into such nearby waterways as streams and rivers.

Downstream from factories that make medications, water is more heavily contaminated with residue of painkillers and other drugs than water elsewhere. In 2010, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey ( tested water downstream from several pharmaceutical factories as it went into water-treatment plants and compared it to other plants that did not receive water from drug factories. Researchers discovered opiates and other drugs at “much higher detection frequencies and concentrations” at the plants receiving effluent from pharmaceutical factories, compared with plants that did not receive water from drug factories. Levels of painkillers alone were sometimes 1,000 times higher than levels in discharges from other sewage.

When a city or town wants to create finished drinking water, they draw contaminated water out of a stream, run it through the city water-treatment plant, and from there it is piped to homes and businesses. Unfortunately, aquatic ecosystems are unable to purify and distill unsafe waste to safe levels. Water treatment plants were never designed to eliminate chemicals from painkillers; therefore, chemicals go straight back into the city’s drinking water.

Human waste

The body does not metabolize or use all medication taken by mouth, so any chemicals left in urine and feces excreted from the human body go down the toilet and back into the domestic sewage system.

When medication left on the skin from pain patches and analgesic gels is washed off the body in a bath or shower, it goes down the drain too, ultimately into streams and rivers. Again, our drinking water is often drawn from these sources.

Marybetts Sinclair ( has been a massage therapist in Oregon since 1975. She is the author of Pediatric Massage Therapy, Modern Hydrotherapy for the Massage Therapist and numerous journal articles. She has taught massage, hydrotherapy, natural vision improvement and other subjects in the U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, Indonesia and South Korea.