‘Life-saving’ AIDS drug Zidovudine has now been added to the list of environmental toxins that needed to be monitored in case they show up in drinking water, because of its cancer-causing properties, according to the State of California’s Environmental Protection Agency. In their report dated 18th December 2009, Zidovudine, still most widely known by its original abbreviated name AZT (Azidothymidine) was added to the list with no recognised maximum safe limit declared.
Why would the notion of AZT being in drinking water be a concern? How would it get there? The problem is that when a person takes any drug, quite often not all of it is broken down and utilised within the body, and some is passed out by the body in its original state. AZT even accumulates in semen, according to a Norwegian study, for instance.
This almost inevitably finds its way into the waste water supply which in an increasing number of places, ultimately gets processed into drinking water to some extent. The problem there is that the kind of processes used by water companies that were originally intended to deal with bacteria and other unclean elements, are not necessarily going to be effective against the increasing variety and quantity of pharmaceutical drugs that either get pissed, washed, or flushed into the waste water system.
The danger from AZT is not just as a cancer-causing drug, even though that has finally been acknowledged. AZT doesn’t do what it claims to do – ie, to inhibit the integration of HIV’s genome into the host cell’s DNA for several reasons including: 1) The evidence has not been provided that HIV is there in the first place, 2) AZT has to be tri-phosphorylated to a level of at least 0.5 ?moles within the cell before it can effectively act as a thymidine analog, but all the robust experimental evidence indicates that triphosphorylated AZT never reaches a level of concentration even remotely close enough to do what it is claimed to do.
However, as well as being highly oxidative, AZT also causes widespread genetic damage within a cell because it becomes monophosphorylated very easily and steals phosphors from real genetic bases to do that. This is a particular danger to mitochondria that have a very weak repair mechanism for mitochondrial DNA. This means that some types of damage from exposure to AZT should be regarded as permanent and cumulative. It's not surprising therefore that now in South Africa, where more recently there has been widespread use of AZT in pregnant mothers diagnosed HIV positive there has been a dramatic increase in the number brain-damaged children born to such mothers. This can show up some while after birth in the form of developmental difficulties.
From most recent analysis, AZT is still the world’s most widely used AIDS drug, either as Retrovir or as a combination in Combivir. The most reliable source of information on the lack of effectiveness of AZT in prolonging life as well as its toxicity of AZT is www.tig.org.za.
The full watch list from California's Environmental Protection Agency may be read here