A soup of pharmaceutical waste spews from the faucets supplying drinking water to 41 million Americans, according to a disturbing study from the Associated Press. At least 24 major cities are affected, including New York, Washington, Boston Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:
- 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.
- Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.
The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.
What Exactly Is In My Drinking Water?
Drugs. Lots of drugs. Trace amounts of the prescriptions we take and the steroids we inject into cattle are winding their way into our water supply. When we (or our eventual steak dinner) can’t fully metabolize a pharmaceutical, it passes straight through us, past treatment plans, and back into the ground until we (or our cow friend) drink it up. Detected drugs include: “antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.”
Ok, Drinking Water Is Bad. I Can Switch To Bottled Water, Right?
No. Bottled water is drinking water suspended in a wasteful plastic shell. Like municipalities, water bottlers don’t test for pharmaceuticals. Home filtration systems are equally useless against drugs.
Um, Ok. There Is No Escape. Am I Safe?
Eh, maybe. Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but the research isn’t encouraging. Pharmaceuticals, unlike general pollutants, are specifically designed to futz with the human body. “…recent studies—which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public—have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.” ‘Alarming effects’ means that cancers grow faster, kidney cells stop regenerating, and heart cells become cranky and inflamed.
This Sucks. What Is The Government Doing?
Ah yes, the government. Maybe they can offer an encouraging and meaningful response? Let’s turn for reassurance to Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water:
“We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously.”