There's Drugs in Drinking Water!  What's With That?

Who Needs the Pharmacy...
We've Got the Public Water Works!

Prescription drugs in drinking water may prove to be the greatest health threat facing us today.

Let's see what is coming out of our water taps these days.

kitchen faucet from Lowes

A little over 30 years ago, the first pharmaceutical drug showed up in the drinking water of Berlin and in the sewage treatment plant and ground water beneath Kansas City.  It was clofibric acid, the generic name for a drug used to lower cholesterol.

Being somewhat alarmed, the Berliners did further tests on the tap water and found more drugs in drinking water; fat lowering drugs, pain killers including ibuprofen, chemo drugs, antibiotics and hormones.

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It's Not Just Drinking Water

Dr. Steve Nugent, in his book, How to Survive on a Toxic Planet documents the findings of Shane Snyder, a Michigan State University researcher.

While studying the fish in Lake Mead, he found levels of pharmaceutical estrogen so high that male fish were producing female egg protein.  He ran the tests 30 times to be sure the findings were correct.

Photo:  Want to feminize your bass?  Spike it's water with estrogen.  Or you could just put lipstick on it.

USGS photo of fish anatomy

The findings of high levels of estrogen in waterways have given rise to theories on the feminization of fish and animals in the wild and possibly human males. 

The amount of estrogen needed to feminize a human embryo is ridiculously small.  It has been equated to about a drop of gin in 700 railcars of tonic water. 

So it wouldn't take to much of the wrong drugs in drinking water to transform a male fetus' brain chemistry into that of a female wired brain.  If this is true, it’s a wonder that any boy babies are born at all.  By the way, neurologists call this phenomenon the "sexual dimorphism of the the brain."  Fascinating study.

Antibiotic Drugs in Drinking Water
are Already Killing Us!

Antibiotics are even more worrisome.  Again, Dr. Nugent reports that Dr. Stuart Levy, Director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, at Tufts University in Boston, claims that the levels of antibiotic drugs in drinking water is 1000 times higher than in the German water. 

The implications are that antibiotic drugs in drinking water may explain why bacteria is rapidly becoming medication resistant; not from over prescribing by doctors as we have thought.

Photo:  The superbug Clostridium difficilis; we're going to
be hearing a lot from him.  You can call me "C-diff".

Clostridium difficilis superbug Superbug is the informal label now given to these antibiotic resistant organisms and they are getting stronger and new ones are appearing with some regularity.

Clostridium difficilis shown in the photo is gaining a strong foothold in hospitals...and killing people.  He eats antibiotics in our water supply for breakfast...makes him strong!

Why are there Drugs in Drinking Water?

So how do these pharmaceutical drugs in drinking get there in the first place?  It turns out that our own toilet bowls are the doorway by which drugs enter the water supply.     

This happens in two ways; one we can control and eliminate, the other we can't do anything about. 

The Porcelin Drug Disposal

Dumping is the first source.  Too many people view their toilets as the best way to get rid of out-of-date drugs or unused drugs. 

They just assume that the water treatment plants will remove the drugs from the water and neutralize them.  Unfortunately, the system does neither and the drugs end up in our waterways or get recycled through us via our tap water.

Bottom line, let's all stop dumping drugs down the toilet.  See if your local pharmacy will take back old or unused drugs for proper disposal.

As an alternative, see if your community has a

hazardous material collection program.  It's a lot better than having those drugs in drinking water.

One article advised people to put old drugs in a tightly sealed container with bleach and dissolve them then put them in the garbage.  This doesn't sound like a particularly brilliant thing to do. 

If our stomach acid and enzymes won't break them down and the chlorination of the treatment plant won't break them
down, I doubt that a little bleach will do the job either.  All we do is end up contaminating the landfill with drugs where, sooner or later, they end up back in the groundwater.

Should we go back to Outhouses?

The second source of drugs in drinking water is our own body and that's the one we can't do anything about.

It is estimated that people take at least 235 million doses of antibiotics a year.  According to JAMA, in 2002 there were about 90 million prescriptions written for hormone therapy drugs.

The problem is that we do not absorb all the drugs we take and end up excreting whatever our bodies don’t use; and that can be as high as 90%.

Excess drugs in the bloodstream get filtered out by our kidneys or broken down by enzymes in the liver.  Either way, they make their way out of the body through urine and fecal matter, ultimately entering the sewage treatment plants and then into streams and lakes.

Photo:  Waste water treatment plant; <br>too bad they can't remove drugs 

waste water treatment plant, wwtp

Whatever contaminants end up in environmental water gets
taken up by wildlife, fish, amphibians and even aquatic plants.  Whatever drugs get recycled back into our potable water system ends up back in us.

Does it bother anyone to know that every time we take a drink of water, we are also taking every drug known to man?  The quantities may be in parts per billion or even parts per trillion but they are still there and we don't know the cumulative effect. 

Drugs in drinking water, and bathing and cooking water for that matter, will likely prove to be a catastrophic problem.

We Need New Technology

What makes pharmaceutical pollution so worrisome is that treatment plants can handle most bacteria, virus and toxins through filtering, settling and chlorination.  Too bad they can't touch pharmaceutical drugs. 

When municipal treatment plants release treated sewage into streams, they pump drug-tainted water directly into the aquatic ecosystem. They aren't breaking any laws; there just isn't any way to remove the drugs, so far.

In the January, 2007 issue of the AARP bulletin, we read that the US Geologic Survey found prescription drug chemicals in 80% of the streams tested across the country.

So forget about the outhouses; that's just a longer route to the water table.

Photo:  Thank God for indoor plumbing!  Boy, the things we take for granted.

old outhouse, a squatter!

I think it would be just grand if the pharmaceutical industry and municipal water companies joined forces to mount a "Manhattan Project" to find a way to get their pharmaceutical residues out of our water supply. 

To date, sewage treatment plants are not equipped to remove drug traces from the water, and drinking water plants are not required to monitor the levels of most drugs in the water.

Federal law mandates that only one drug (nitroglycerin) be monitored.  It has been shown that membrane reverse osmosis can remove most pharmaceutical residue from the water, but is more costly than conventional treatment methods. 

Nevertheless, a few municipal water systems have implemented reverse osmosis and one plant in Southern California has become a showplace for the technology.  There is always hope and maybe with all the stimulating stimulus infrastructure projects coming our way, maybe there will even be results.

How do we Protect Ourselves Now?

In the meantime, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves from drugs in drinking water is to place filters using carbon block technology in our kitchen water line and replace our old shower heads with carbon filter shower heads.

To read up on the latest home filtration technology read the PDF presskit from Aquasana and after learning about the technology, look at their products.

In particular, consider the AQ-4000 Countertop filter system and the AQ-4100 Shower Filter System for your home.

Aquasana AQ-4000 Countertop Water Filter
Aquasana AQ-4100 Shower Filter

The health benefits and peace of mind they will bring your family is worth every penny.

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