A new media report has found that minute quantities of pharmaceuticals, such as hormones, mood stabilizers, and antibiotics, may be present in our drinking water supplies. This investigation was carried out by the Associated Press; the drinking water supplies in 24 metropolitan areas were tested, and drugs were found. How do these drugs get into the water supply, are they harmful and what can you do about it?
There are two main routes where drugs can enter our water and ultimately our water supplies. The first route is when a person disposes of unwanted prescribed medications by flushing them away in their toilets. The second route occurs when a person takes their medication, absorbs the needed amount and then passes the remainder in the form of feces or urine. Both of these move tiny amounts of pharmaceuticals into sewerage where it has the potential to become part of our drinking water. Some of these pharmaceuticals are removed with wastewater treatments, but others remain and enter the drinking water supply.
Are These Drugs Dangerous?
The detected levels of the drugs are extremely low; measurements are typically measured in parts per billion (ppb) or even parts per trillion (ppt). Water companies state that their water is safe to drink, but government and independent experts have no definitive advice either way. This is not a new phenomenon; there have been concerns about low levels of drugs in our drinking water for over a decade. Scientists have voiced concerns, and we’re now seeing evidence of environmental damage to marine life. Until more research is conducted, we will not understand the possible dangers that pharmaceutical contamination may represent to humans.
Since the late 90s environmentalists have been warning about the presence of oral contraceptives found in sewage water. Some fish have been found with male and female characteristics due to exposure from estrogen found in our waterways. In recent years, technological advances have made research easier and analytical methods have been improved. The levels of pollution are concerning, but it’s important to remember that these advances mean that lower levels of pollution are detectable. Research has now moved on to include other aspects that are concerning, including synthetic hormones and pharmaceutical pollution. The levels of pollution are low, but hormones especially can affect the human body even in very small concentrations.
What is the Solution?
Sadly, there is no simple solution to this problem; boiling drinking water will not help, and bottled water is often sourced from the same municipal water supplies. The EPA are carrying out further studies on the extent of the problem and the FDA has introduced specific labeling on bottled water. The best solution for homeowners is to take additional measures to improve the quality of their drinking water. A reverse osmosis water filtration system and to a lesser extent activated charcoal filtration is known to reduce the levels of pharmaceutical pollution in drinking water. Even a small reduction in the levels of these hormones and drugs in our water can help, and in the future, we may hopefully see advances to remove them entirely.
With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative. Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.