updated 1/28/2009 12:47:58 PM ET 2009-01-28T17:47:58

The prime minister's office in India said Wednesday it has ordered a probe into the results of a Swedish study that found supposedly treated wastewater in a poor southern state contained a cocktail of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients.

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The environment ministry was ordered to investigate and determine "the facts of the matter," said a senior official from the prime minister's office who asked not to be named.

Extremely high levels of pharmaceuticals were found in the treated wastewater at a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues in Patancheru, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, according to studies by Joakim Larsson, an environmental scientist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The official said an Associated Press report earlier this week on Larsson's research brought the situation to the government's attention. He said there was no deadline for the investigation but the environment ministry has been asked to provide a report as soon as possible.

Last year, the AP reported that trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals had been found in drinking water provided to at least 46 million Americans. But the wastewater downstream from the Indian plants contained 150 times the highest levels detected in the U.S.

Patancheru became a hub for largely unregulated chemical and drug factories in the 1980s, creating what one local newspaper has termed an "ecological sacrifice zone" with its waste. Since then, India has become one of the world's leading exporters of pharmaceuticals, and the U.S. — which spent $1.4 billion on Indian-made drugs in 2007 — is its largest customer.

Larsson's data, presented at a U.S. scientific conference in November, found ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic, and the popular antihistamine cetirizine in the highest concentrations in the wells of six villages tested.

Both drugs measured far below a human dose, but the results were still alarming for the local population consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

Rajeshwar Tiwari, who heads the area's pollution control board has said that India's environmental protections are being enforced at Patancheru.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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