Courtesy TsjalWell, this is not good to hear.
An investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that the drinking water of more than two dozen US cities is polluted with pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs.
The medications, which include antibiotics, sex hormones, and mood stabilizers, along with commonly used medications such as ibuprofen, were detected in trace amounts – quantities of parts per billions or even trillions - but let’s face it, this is really disturbing news.
How the drugs got there is obvious; our country’s population is a highly medicated one. We pop a lot pill for all sorts of conditions, headaches, depression, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, birth control, sexual dysfunction, to name just a few. Our bodies metabolize a large portion of these drugs but any part not absorbed, ends up going down the toilet and back into the water system.
“People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that’s not the case,” said Christian Daughton, an EPA scientist who was one of the first to bring attention to the issue.
Waste treatment plants filter the water before it gets discharged back into reservoirs or into the water table, and the water is treated again for drinking but unfortunately the treatment plants just aren’t set up to filter out the drug traces. The AP’s five-month investigation also turned up disturbing data that shows some natural watersheds are also contaminated, meaning this stuff is getting into everything.
The trace amounts don’t seem to be a concern, at least not in the short term. But what about in the long term? The effect of ingesting low-levels of all these different types of medications over a lifetime –or even during the critical nine months of gestation – just isn’t clearly understood. Some recent studies have shown disturbing alterations in human cells and wildlife exposed to water laced with pharmaceuticals and industrial pollutants, but these studies aren’t well known to the general population.
And human waste isn’t the only source of contamination. Steroids given to cattle have been shown to find their way from feedlots back into the water system. And here’s an unsettling statistic I learned recently: 75 percent of the antibiotics sold by the US drug companies is used on livestock -such as chickens- to keep them healthy while they grow fat for the slaughterhouse. Some of their manure is then used to fertilize crop fields and the antibiotics get into the aquifers.
So what to do? At the moment, the federal government has no requirement for testing water for drugs and many major cities don’t do it. Less than 50 percent of the 62 cities the AP investigated didn’t test for that kind of contamination. These included major metropolitan centers such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Chicago, New York City and Phoenix. Some water providers told the AP investigators that they had found no traces of pharmaceuticals in their water, only to have an independent test show that wasn’t true.
You might think, as I did, that maybe bottled water is the answer. Unfortunately much of that is just repackaged (and untested) tap water. And most home purification systems don’t filter out drug contaminates. There is a process called reverse osmosis that can rid the water of all traces of medical contaminants but at the moment, it is very expensive and results in a lot of contaminated waste water just to get a single gallon of potable water.
And the US is not alone in this problem. Traces of pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers around the world. Considering that only 3 percent of Earth’s water is fresh water, something needs to be done.
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