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BLOG: March 2008

Drugs in your drinking water

Is there a connection between prescription drugs, water you drink, and you? You bet. Recent investigation by the Associated Press added more details to what is already known - that unmetabolized drugs, both non-prescription and prescription, flashed down the toilets arrive at waste water management plants and, from there, find their way into your drinking water.

And in rather wide variety. Painkillers, tranquilizers, heart medications, hormones, anticonvulsants, sexual stimulants, antibiotics - you name it.

No one knows for sure which ones, or how many altogether, because testing for them is either non-existent, or very limited. The highest count in the AP investigation was for Philadelphia - 56 pharmaceutical chemicals. But you can be assured, there's more than that; and, whenever there is a few that tested positive, there are many more.

We are talking about very low levels of contamination, much lower than any individual dose. On the other hand, we are also talking about dozens and dozens of such trace contaminants pouring into your body day in and day out, for decades. Also, it is largely unknown what kind of interactions drug residues undergo with other water contaminants, as well as chemical agents purposely added to it - particularly chlorine.

The question is, of course, does it affect your health? Officials, both from EPA and water provider facilities are quick to declare that drinking water is safe. As a matter of fact, they don't really know it. Federal government doesn't require testing, nor has sat safety limits of any kind for pharmaceuticals in drinking water. Very little of research on the subject has been done.

Some water suppliers don't even think we should know about it. According to the AP, head representative of the major California water suppliers stated that public doesn't know how to properly interpret that information, and could become "too alarmed".

Remember that - apparently, some public officials think that they can decide

what information related to your health
is appropriate - or not - for you to know.

What we do know for sure is that pharmaceutical contaminants affects aquatic and soil wildlife. The fish is probably affected the most, due to the effect of bio-magnification, causing contaminant concentration to rise sharply going toward the top predator - in this case from plankton and plankton eating water inhabitants, to smaller and large fish.

But don't forget: we are the top planet predator, and it all finally comes to us - not only through drinking water.

Of course, meat and dairy are another significant source of pharmaceutical contaminants, from synthetic hormones and antibiotics that the animals are treated with.

So, what can you do to prevent pharmaceutical - and other - residues from entering your body? Not much. You can use water filter, a good one, but it is not likely to remove more than a fraction of these contaminants from your water. You can try to find some source of relatively untouched, pristine water - there are still a few left - but unless you're lucky enough to have it locally, it is likely to be expensive.