Update: 41 46 Million Americans Drink Pharmaceutical Waste

If you weren’t one of the 41 million Americans drinking water contaminated with sex hormones and pharmaceutical waste, welcome to the club! Testing prompted by the AP’s damning investigation has revealed that another five million people, including residents of Reno, Colorado Springs, and Chicago, now sip the potentially dangerous pharmaceutical soup.

The substances detected in the latest tests mirrored those cited in the earlier AP report.

Chicago, for example, found a cholesterol medication and a nicotine derivative. Many cities found the anti-convulsant carbamazepine. Officials in one of those communities, Colorado Springs, say they detected five pharmaceuticals in all, including a tranquilizer and a hormone.

“This is obviously an emerging issue and after the AP stories came out we felt it was the responsible thing for us to do, as a utility, to find out where we stand. We believe that at these levels, based on current science, that the water is completely safe for our customers,” said Colorado Springs spokesman Steve Berry. “We don’t want to create unnecessary alarm, but at the same time we have a responsibility as a municipal utility to communicate with our customers and let them know.”

Of the twenty-seven municipalities to test their water supply, seventeen returned positive results. The water in Boston, Phoenix and Seattle all turned up crystal-clear.

What about the country’s largest water provider, New York City?

The City Council called for an urgent-sounding emergency meeting in April to order the Department of Environmental Protection to test the city’s water supply. In response, the D.E.P. declared: “the testing of finished tap water is not warranted at this time.”

Drugs affect more drinking water [AP]
PREVIOUSLY: AP: 41 Million Americans Drink Water Contaminated With Antibiotics, Anti-Convulsants, Mood Stabilizers, And Sex Hormones
(Photo: mikelens)


Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    Chicago, for example, found a cholesterol medication and a nicotine derivative

    In other news, medical researchers are stymied to explain a sudden drop in cholesterol levels in Chicagoans, while at the same time smoking seems to be on the rise.

    “I’ve never smoked before, ” quoted one confused Chicagoan, “but in the last couple of weeks, after I’ve returned home from running, I have a strange urge to light one up.”

    • bunt says:

      Funny, you’d think that people in Chicago would be thinner and in better health then.

      Course, I ended up picking back up smoking when I moved into the city. Coincidence?

  2. ukthom says:

    Jesus…glad I live in Boston!

    But, I wonder if a cholesterol altering drug would be a good thing in the water supply? I wonder if Plavix is in on this??

    • BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

      @ukthom: Love that dirty water. Someone had to say it. Anyway it sounds like a new market for natural springs in Chicago.

    • Difdi says:


      But, I wonder if a cholesterol altering drug would be a good thing in the water supply?

      Most cholesterol medication places a moderate to severe strain on the liver. If combined with other forms of liver stress, such as alcoholism, that could well lead to many, many cases of liver failure.


      We have a PUR filter so I wonder if that helps things. I know the water is now drinkable again.

      PUR and Brita are mostly just for taste. They’ll catch some contaminants, but most of the truly nasty stuff goes through them like they’re not there.

      If you want truly pure water, you should look into a high quality filter, or a distiller. Take a look at this page, as an example:


  3. nffcnnr says:

    Well, there are 47 million Americans without health insurance. Can’t we find a way to funnel all the pharma-water to them? Healthcare crisis solved.

  4. Trai_Dep says:

    Since 46 million people are ingesting controlled substances without a lawful prescription, the only sensible Republican thing to do is arrest then incarcerate every single one of ’em.
    Makes about as much as any of their other policies.

  5. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Evian…now with carbamazepine!!


  6. Overheal says:

    Funny… Erin Brokivich just started on A&E.

  7. johnnya2 says:

    Only buy NSF certified bottled water. Yes, there is a reason to drink bottled

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I’m drinking a glass of tap water right now, actually. A while ago, I was feeling annoyed that I was paying for bottled distilled water…and now I feel like it might be a good idea to go back to buying gallons of water.

  9. Stupid NYC DEP. I want to know what in the water I’m drinking

  10. fall_farewell says:

    it at least could have been viagra :(

  11. AlphaWolf says:

    Not to be cynical but is this just another decline in our public services. Action it seems is being taken either slowly or not at all. Now we all have to filter our own water or buy bottled…The whole Fluoride thing is bad enough.

    • Shadowfire says:

      @AlphaWolf: Wait, what? What’s the problem with Flouride? I know dentists may wish it wasn’t there, but don’t tell me you’re one of those “the CIA uses it to control your mind!” crazies. :

      • Julia789 says:

        Mom always said they should just add Prozac to the water supply… then everybody would be happy. Maybe they’re taking Mom’s advice!

      • Julia789 says:

        @Shadowfire: No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. Fluoridation is part of a communist plot to undermine the health of Americans. ; )

        All kidding aside, it’s fine. Many parts of the world already have high fluoride levels, and there’s no need to add it to the water. It’s natural.

        Flouridation is endorsed by The American Dental Association, World Health Organization, the CDC, and the American Medical Association.

        See [en.wikipedia.org] for a list controversial claims and info from both sides of the argument.

        • Icantlikethat says:

          @Julia789: “It’s natural”

          So’s uranium but I don’t want that in my water either. Thanks to my moms obsession with us getting enough of it my teeth have dental fluorosis. Avoid.

  12. StoneKitten says:

    So yeah I guess next big trend should be bottled water that is labeled drug free.
    Hey my idea, I said it here first.

  13. NotYou007 says:

    Water is nice and clean where I live. I’ll purchase a bottle of water now and then but I’ll reuse that bottle till it gets that funky smell then I’ll get a new one. People that only drink bottle water make me laugh. We grew up drinking out of lead pipes and never drank bottled water as children but as adults you will pay 1.39 for 20oz of filtered water.

    I refuse to stop drinking water from the tap. I wonder if these people that drink only bottled water brush their teeth with it as well and use it to take a bath.

  14. dougyfresh says:

    This seems a bit alarmist until we actually know how much contaminant is present. It seems that most of the cities have deemed the amount present to be more than safe for drinking purposes. It’s not like drinking a glass of water is equivalent to taking an actual dose of the subscribed medication.

  15. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I can’t bring myself to reuse a water bottle until it gets a smell. If it has to get a smell, it’s not worth it and I’d rather just get the permanent stainless steel water bottle.

    Anyone know of a list of cities or counties with water that’s safe from pharmaceuticals? I just want to know whether my area is on that list, and looking at the water authority website is more useless than blind people an eyeglass store.

    • oneandone says:

      @IHaveAFreezeRay: Sadly, no list of cities. Most won’t or can’t test (for financial & legal reasons) for non-regulated contaminants like this…. and because the chemicals are so durable, it’s unlikely there are *any* bodies of water in the U.S. without some trace contamination. One of the best ways to figure out if a ‘pristine’ source has had human interference is to test for caffeine. Even when there’s no apparent human pollution, there’s an extraordinary number of streams that test positive for caffeine, just because if anyone anywhere upstream in the watershed used the river, stream, or aquifer, they probably left some pharmaceuticals in their wake, and caffeine is one the easiest to test for. (Though it does breakdown in strong sunlight, so the absence of caffeine doesn’t prove a pristine source).

      Anyway, imo, the places that tested positive are just the places that bothered to check thoroughly. And most of the trace pharmaceuticals showing up are related to agriculture, not human use. And to fix anything would mean $200 million dollar upgrades to wastewater treatment systems in *every* city affected, plus stricter runoff controls on farms. So it’s either spend unprecedented funds on sewage infrastructure rehab AND change our farming culture to comply with extremely strict regulations, or just get used to having trace amounts of durable, synthetic chemicals in treated drinking water.

  16. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Oh crap.

    I live in one of those cities.

    So, does the Brita filter or any of those things make any sort of difference?

  17. mpotter says:

    This is probably just more alarmist media pandering like last time. Watch the full details of the report come out and say that they found 1 parts per trillion of these drugs in the water, which would mean you’d pretty much have to drink 10 gallons of water a day, for a month, to have any level of drug in your system to effect you. What I would love to see is the same study done on the bottled water everyone drinks, which is also just tap water from places like New York, and see what concentrations of different drugs are found there!

    • god_forbids says:

      @mpotter: See here. The quoted NRDC study is available by googling.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @mpotter: Yeah, giggles aside, I recall hearing on NPR that you would need to drink 10 Olympic swimming pools worth of water to get a single adult dose. Which, unless you have a three bathroom house, seems cruising for trouble, especially if you have any teenaged girls.
      And, a bit less in jest, the GOP owns the lock-em-up-for-50-years-if-caught-with-a-joint platform. So it’s not injecting politics, it’s simple observation. With a little ha-ha added for free.
      Is it just me, or does that kitty in the pict look seriously wasted? Has anyone tested for traces of catnip in our water supply?

      • nt0xik8ed says:

        @Trai_Dep: that reminds me of the radon scam. you had to keep your head in a radon filled hole for 78 years before it had any effect on a human. or the black mold scam, which there is no such thing.

        • Shadowfire says:

          @MuglyTheWorm: Actually, black mold isn’t so much a scam, as it is again an overreaction. It can cause respiratory problems, but only when you try to scrape it off and breathe it in (or have an allergy to the spores).

    • Kali Mama says:

      @mpotter: Exactly. It’s be a dilution so small it will have Avogadro spinning in his grave. Maybe the water works can get NCCAM funding for a homeopathy study on this scale.

  18. Pharmaceutical Waste!
    Recommended by 9 out of 10 people who drink waste.

  19. pixiegirl1 says:

    I remember when I was young my brother took me to swim in lake micigan even though we live in a town with a lake (a cleaner one) I ended up swallowing a bunch of water and I pretty much felt violently sick the rest of the night and majority of the next day. I don’t recall ever throwing up so much in my life. I never had a desire to swim in lake micigan again.

    That being said I drink our tap water(which comes from lake micigan) and it tastes fine so even though they may not get everything out its a billion times better than if they didn’t filter it.

  20. battra92 says:

    We have a PUR filter so I wonder if that helps things. I know the water is now drinkable again.

    • Overheal says:

      @battra92: PUR and Brita filters only filter out heavy particles like iron filings and the like. They are not rated to filter out chemical and biological contaminants, like bacteria.

  21. magnus150 says:

    So that’s why I feel so calm after a nice cup of water, its the Xanax.

  22. TPS Reporter says:

    We use bottled water because we have well water. And it is ok for showers, laundry and such, but it just doesn’t taste quite right to drink it. But we buy the big gallons and just use a glass. I could get a reverse osmosis system and that will remove the taste, but I’m cheap. Of course it might save us some money with the tap water as my wife takes carbamazepine. Just kidding.

  23. JustaConsumer says:

    Anyone that lives downstream of a city and gets their water from a river or stream is getting dosed with a wide variety of crap. Literally.

  24. Julia789 says:

    My pediatrician’s office had our local water independently tested a few years back, since many patients were asking if they should give their kids bottled water. They were satisfied with the results, and recommend all their patients are given regular tap water from our city.

  25. minvasive says:

    Sounds like a growing problem.

  26. lordargent says:

    NotYou007: People that only drink bottle water make me laugh.

    I only drink bottled water (but I’m paying $1 per gallon) I can taste the chlorine in tap water.

    /Haven’t gotten around to installing a RO filter in the kitchen.

    /water from small plastic bottles tastes like plastic sometimes.

    /Will drink tap water (and make a funny face) if I’m thirsty.

    /Sparklets == undrinkable to me, It’s 100 times worse than tap water.

  27. lordargent says:

    NotYou007: People that only drink bottle water make me laugh.


    If I’m making kool/aid, tang, tea, lemonade or whatever. I use tap water.

    Because whatever I’m mixing into the water kills the slight chlorine taste.

  28. Opus says:

    Oh, gawd. What a lot of angst about nothing. Analytical technique has advanced far enough that you can find ANYTHING YOU LOOK FOR in the water. That DOES NOT mean that there’s enough to cause any harm!!

    Consumerist needs to stop with the hand-wringing and needlessly scary. This is a non-event.

  29. cozymoses says:

    Two words: MEDIA HYPE.

  30. Carbonic says:

    Lets bottle it and call it “vitamin enriched”!

    whos with me on this!?

  31. oneandone says:

    Also, one of the major reasons a lot of the painkillers show up frequently is because of DEA regulations – hospitals & nursing homes & pharmacies have to dispose of controlled substances in certain ways, and often that involves flushing it. Eventually they realized this stuff is turning up in the water, and adjusted their guidelines…. so now we’re encouraged to mix most unused drugs with kittylitter or coffeegrounds before disposal. Details: [www.smarxtdisposal.net]

    But a lot is still supposed to be flushed. So the problem won’t be going away in the near future….

  32. CharlieInSeattle says:

    I’m so glad Seattle wasn’t listed on this. And since I’ve moved my water is even better coming off of a community well, that is tested regularly. The last test results I got about 3 months ago were some of the best results I’ve seen in well water. They don’t chlorinate it either, so it’s damn tasty on top of it, and naturally soft water.

  33. Mogbox says:

    The article mentions Reno, which got me worried, so I emailed the Truckee Meadows Water Authority and received the following response.

    I believe the AP article is referring to sampling that Washoe County
    Water Resources conducted for some of their source water. The map in
    the AP article has a separate “dot” for Truckee Meadows sampling
    (sampling that TMWA conducted through a national laboratory). The story
    didn’t really spell out the difference very well. TMWA had a press
    conference this past spring to spell out that TMWA source water had no
    hits for pharmaceuticals. Not long after that the County results posted
    and they had some hits. I’m guessing that’s why they show “Reno” as
    having detects but “Truckee Meadows” as having no detects.

    Much of these detects are due to the fact that the technology has gotten
    so much better in actually finding the pharms in the water. The EPA is
    still investigating any future regulations and will probably investigate
    for a while. These detects are in the part per trillion range which is
    very very low.

    Anyway, TMWA’s water has been tested and there were no hits for
    pharmaceuticals in our source water as well as our finished water. The
    article stating “Reno” was actually Washoe County’s result which is
    misleading as TMWA serves almost all of the greater Reno/Sparks area’s
    drinking water.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

    It seems that the bulk of Reno, NV has a little less to worry about than AP’s FUD-inducing article mentions.

  34. Tankueray says:

    I work regularly with water quality. These results pose no threat to human health. The results are in parts per trillion. Less than the amount you would get through your skin by handling the pills. But these results are not necessarily from drugs being flushed. When you take drugs and vitamins, your body can only absorb a certain amount, the rest gets excreted. Read the information about your drugs online. It’ll tell you how much is excreted. Pharmaceuticals are generally optimized for absorption, so as little as possible is wasted. Vitamins are not. Your body can only absorb and process so much vitamin X, taking more (and paying for it) is just a waste. Your tap water is safe, when it’s not the supplier is required to notify its customers, sometimes they are even required to provide bottled water to sensitive members of the population. (babies, elderly, immune-compromised). The results of your water supply’s tests are a matter of public record. You can contact your state environmental agency for results. Although they only test for federally required contaminants, such as nitrates, arsenic, chlorine levels, bacteria, etc. Your water supply should send out a report once a year explaining the past year’s test results and if they busted any limits, what that means and what they did to fix it. Chlorine has to be kept at a certain residual level at all times. If you can taste or smell the chlorine in your water, it is actually creating chlorine byproducts with the contaminants and there is not enough chlorine in your water. If your water burns your skin, then something is terribly wrong and there is too much chlorine or ammonia in your water. I actually had a plant that the engineers came in to “improve” the plant and they actually created a feedback loop sending high amounts of ammonia into the water supply. A few people were sent to the hospital, but recovered completely and the water supply notified the public immediately and fixed the problem. If anything happens to your water that could seriously affect your health, the water supply is required to notify its customers by television or radio broadcast or by going house to house (usually with door hangers). The most common one is a “boil water notice”, this can be triggered by a drop in pressure or a low chlorine residual in the system. Usually the water is still safe, its just that if the results are a fraction below the required level in any part of the system they are required to send out notice. Most larger cities are serviced by multiple water plants, so the notice only goes out to the customers on the affected line.
    Re: bottled water – it is possible that the source of the “natural spring water” is contaminated with pharmaceuticals as well. It would not be in the company’s best interest to let anyone test for non federally required contaminants. And the water that is bottled from the public water supply is treated with reverse osmosis, not distillation; I don’t know the size of the drug molecules nor the boiling point of them, so it’s difficult to determine whether these processes would completely remove them. I can tell you that both remove both bad and good contaminants from the water, leaving you without needed minerals. I know exactly what’s in the water, where it comes from, and how its treated, and I drink it from the tap, I give it to my pets and use it in my freshwater tanks. (Reef tank gets RO) The water is perfectly safe. If anyone tells you differently, find out where they got their advanced degree in biochemistry before you listen to them.