Prescription Drugs found in Drinking Water

Trace amounts of antibiotics, mood stabilizers, anti-convulsants and sex hormones have been found in drinking water across the U.S. following a five month investigation by Associated Press:

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas -- from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit, Michigan, to Louisville, Kentucky.

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.

There is no federal regulation for testing these drugs in drinking water. In one example, Philadelphia, traces of 56 different drugs were found in the tap water. This included the above mentioned drugs, anti-cholesterol drugs and other pills that Americans take on a regular basis.

As water companies (this includes some bottled waters) and utilities do not routinely filter out these chemicals, this means they are returned to the water systems through the water table, following the reprocessing of waste water from human sources.

We are taking these drugs and then depositing the residue into the water table, which is used as a water source that deposits the trace chemicals back into our bodies and out through the reprocessing treatment that does not filter them out.

Some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

• Officials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

• Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

• Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

• A sex hormone was detected in the drinking water of San Francisco, California.

• The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

The AP report went on to say that users of bottled water and home filtration systems may not avoid exposure, as those systems don't filter for the chemicals either. Nor do wells or deep water aquifers. The report adds the problem has been detected throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe, the Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

More research will be needed as to the impact of the trace pharmaceuticals, but, given growing concern about the effect of environmental endocrine disruptors, it does make the understanding of the impact to our water table and ourselves a required and urgent next step in this study.