updated 12:18 p.m. ET, Sun., April 19, 2009

Federal scientists testing for pharmaceuticals in water have been finding significantly more medicine residues in sewage downstream from public treatment facilities that handle waste from drugmakers.

Early results from two pivotal federal studies compare wastewater at treatment plants that handle sewage from drugmakers with those that do not. The studies cover just a small fraction of the 1,886 pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities counted in a 2006 U.S. Census report.

In one study, samples taken at two treatment plants down the sewer line from drugmaking factories contained a range of pharmaceuticals — among them opiates, a barbiturate and a tranquilizer at "much higher detection frequencies and concentrations" than samples taken at other plants, according to preliminary research by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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