Millions of Americans are drinking water tainted with drugs


By Martin Bosworth

If you were grossed out by the generally reasonable idea of drinking recycled sewer water to preserve supplies, you’ll love this–as many as 41 million Americans have been drinking water tainted with trace elements of pharmaceuticals of all shapes, sizes, and effects:

• Officials in Philadelphia 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 San Francisco’s drinking water.

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

The AP article is worth reading in depth–not only for the sheer staggering weight of the findings, but for how state, local, and federal officials charged with monitoring our water supplies uniformly respond with denials and ignorance. But does this really come as a surprise?

We’re one of the most overly medicated societies in the world, with every mysterious new ailment we suffer from naturally having some kind of drug or pill to remedy it. Chronic fatigue syndrome, Restless Leg syndrome, erectile dysfunction, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, OCD, etc. I have often wondered, in fact, if many of these bizarre ailments that never seemed to exist until the last thirty years or so were not, in fact, products of our continual exposure to trace elements of harmful chemicals in our everyday life. It’s a vicious circle–we get sick from these poisons and are poisoned further with the “treatments” (never a “cure,” mind you–it’s always a “treatment”), and we end up recycling these poisons right back into our environment. Hell, we start right away with our children, exposing them to lead-tainted toys–get ’em while they’re young, I say.

Back to the AP article:

Perhaps it’s because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12% to a record 3.7 billion, while non-prescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.

“People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that’s not the case,” said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

We shape our environment as much as it shapes us, and if we’re ingesting billions of samples of these chemical cocktails, then shitting and pissing them back into our water, food, and air supply, is it any wonder that we’ll start soaking them right back up? Even beneficial chemicals can be dangerous in the wrong amounts, or if taken for too long a time. But because our governments and local authorities are sticking their heads in the water sand, we may need a lot more of these independent inquiries to find out just how deep and far the problem goes.

At least we can rest comfortably knowing our troops in Iraq are drinking safe water and don’t have to worry about this. Oh, wait, never mind that.

Just as an amusing coda, as a D.C. resident, it surprises me not at all that the highest amounts of chemical traces found in my water supply were naproxen, ibuprofen, and caffeine, while San Fran gets the sex hormone. It tells you a lot, actually.

9 replies »

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  2. The Pump Handle blog (refers to a community water pump handle, BTW) is an icnredibly important public health group blog, written by experts. They have chronicled this story.

    But the major source of hormonal and antibiotic contaminants come from those agents being fed and administered to livestock in the food supply. Eliminate that first, and there will be a significant impact on the water supply and on auto-immune and antibiotic resistant organism evolution.

    Oh – and functioning and competent governmental regulatory and oversight agencies wouldn’t hurt, either.

  3. i mourn the day when people choose their destination based, not on school district, but on water byproducts. i’ve never liked Philadelphia more than i have now. :/

  4. I wonder how trace the amounts found were, as well as potential drug interactions both with other drugs in the water and common drugs in the cities populations. Theoretically, wouldn’t an agency such as the FDA have that locked away on file? Moreover, what’s the life of the chemicals in the water? Three cycles? More, before they are totally broken down?

  5. Not really a laughing matter, but Andy Borowitz was good on this. Excerpt:

    Bush Reveals Tap Water as Prescription Drug Plan
    Hopes Doped Water Will Be His Legacy, President Says

    On a day when millions Americans were reeling from the news that there were trace amounts of prescription drugs in their drinking water, President George W. Bush made a stunning announcement at the White House.

    “I am responsible for this,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “This is my idea of a prescription drug plan.”

    Standing before a banner reading “Prescription Accomplished,” the president said that he hoped providing Americans with free medications via their tap water would prove to be “the finest legacy” of his Administration.

    Mr. Bush indicated that America’s drug-laced waters could boost tourism in the U.S., adding that English rocker Pete Doherty was “getting on the next plane over here.”

  6. There are a few filters on the market that are certified for the removal of synthetic organic chemicals (SOCs) and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Most prescription and over the counter drugs fall under those categories. Check them out

    I hope you find this information useful. Until there’s some standard set for the removal of prescription and OTC drugs I guess it’s up to us to do it on an individual basis.