There's Medicine in Our Drinking Water

Posted on March 10, 2008

An Associated Press probe has found traces of pharmaceuticals in the water supply of 41 million Americans. The amounts of individual medications in the drinking water is tiny but they include a wide range of meds including antibiotics and sex hormones.

A vast array of pharmaceuticals - including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones - have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs - and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen - in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

Here's how the drugs get into the drinking water.
People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.
It's very disturbing. No one wants to imagine drinking traces of all sorts of drugs when they are taking a drink. This is going to drive up the demand for bottled water - except that water contains drug traces too.
Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.
Concerned citizens need to pressure lawmakers to require stricter filtering of our drinking water.

Environmental News Service says the AP probe confirms a 2002 report by the U.S. Geological Survey that was the "first nationwide study of pharmaceutical pollution in the nation's rivers and streams."

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