We have a tendency in our society to take our drinking water for granted and assume that water contamination will be taken care of by our local authorities. We need to change the way we think in this regard because budgets for water treatment are drying up and the use of recycled water is now becoming more common. We can no longer just think of water as a gift from Mother Nature that will always be there when we need it, but rather as an industry and commodity which needs investment!
Here is one way how the contamination in drinking water begins.
The drugs and personal care products that we use in our lives on a daily basis are excreted from our bodies or are washed off us during our daily cleansing rituals. And, we often dump them down the sink as we wash out their containers for recycle. We’ve not yet counted here the drugs in our drinking water that people intentionally flush down their toilets or dump down their sinks when they want to dispose of them.
So, all of this waste ends up as sewage which flows into sewer systems and septic tanks. But where does it go from there? Although the waste then goes through treatment plants, the current municipal water processing systems that are used in just about every town and city in America, are not set up to deal with the volume and types of environmental waste that we create inadvertently every day.
Many scientists see water management as a critical issue, and are beginning to monitor the impact that Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in water have on our health. PPCPs detected in drinking water are on the rise with an estimated increase from 2 billion to 3.9 billion annual prescriptions between 1999 and 2009 in the United States alone.
41 million Americans Are Drinking Drugs from Their Tap.
According to the Associated Press, there are approximately 41 million Americans who are drinking antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones from their tap water. In addition to the drugs found in the drinking water previously stated above, the list also includes beta-blockers, hypnotics, antineoplastics, bronchodilators, antibiotics, antiseptics, cleaning solvents, sunscreen ingredients, caffeine, blood lipid regulators, hospital X-ray contrast agents and fragrances.
Researchers are concerned by the chemicals which are leaching from septic tanks, and are escaping almost entirely intact from sewage treatment plants and are ending up in our homes. Plus we also need to consider the increasingly high amount of chemical wastes that leach into streams downstream from farms. The EPA says, “With advances in technology that improved the ability to detect and quantify these chemicals, we can now begin to identify what effects, if any, these chemicals have on human and environmental health.” There have, so far, been no conclusions about the actual effects PPCPs have on either the environment or your health.
The EPA’s strategy for dealing with PPCPs in our drinking water include:
- Strengthening science through analytical evaluation of water sources, research underway to help understand whether very low levels of pharmaceuticals in water might present a risk to human health, and a partnership with the National Academy of Sciences to provide expert scientific advice on how to determine potential risks to human health.
- Improving public understanding through communicating about available data and any associated uncertainty with the data. The EPA has developed a website focusing specifically on PPCPs in water, and a website with a primary focus on the Agency’s research.
- Building partnerships and promoting stewardship opportunities with federal, state and local agencies, industry and others involved in the water industry.
- Taking regulatory action when appropriate to minimize the amount of pharmaceuticals entering the waste water stream.
Germany is taking the lead with regard to PPCPs in water waste monitoring. The studies that they have conducted during the past 10 years have confirmed the presence of PPCP waste in their treated and untreated sewage. It has also been found in surface water, aquifer groundwater and drinking water in general. According to a March 2000 report at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, water samples taken from forty rivers and streams in Germany turned up the chemical residues of over thirty one different types of PPCPs.
Most of the PPCPs found in treated and untreated sewage are detected at concentrations ranging from parts per trillion, to parts per billion. This may not seem like a lot, but it is significant because they accumulate in the body, which creates a major problem if you are already taking similar drugs to begin with. Since most drugs are not on the danger list of water contaminants there is no requirement for water treatment authorities to list or even look for them. This problem is not restricted to just the U.S., it is a worldwide problem. Researchers in Canada are also finding this to be true in their systems as well.
How Does This Affect Your Health?
Researchers are just now beginning to analyze the effects of some of these drugs in our drinking water which include, but are not limited to, cholesterol-lowering drugs, estrogens and anticonvulsants on fish in the Great Lakes. All three of these drug types can potentially interfere with the normal reproduction and development in fish living downstream from a typical sewage treatment plant. It doesn’t take much to affect wildlife in a negative way. Studies show that estrogen compounds, even exposure at the parts-per-trillion level feminizes male fish and can disrupt the development of their circulatory systems, their eyes and urinary tract systems.
Researchers note that although the number of peer-reviewed papers on this topic are limited, government agencies concerned with water quality in the United States, and other professional organizations serving the water and waste water communities around the world are beginning to acknowledge the impact that drugs in our drinking water are having on the environment.
The long-term affect on humans from what are commonly known as sub-therapeutic doses of numerous drugs, as well as other substances not meant to be ingested, remains to be seen. This becomes a major issue in areas where water is scarce, because there will be more ‘reuse’ of treated sewage water intended to meet drinking water needs. This increases the likelihood of exposure to PPCPs which will end up in drinking water, and therefore in the bodies of those who are exposed to this type of water. Further research is required to ensure safe water supplies in the future.
Ensuring the safety of our water will require collaboration between the Food and Drug Administration and the EPA. This challenge may not be met anytime soon because the FDA does not typically address environmental concerns and the latter generally does not deal with drug issues. So until then, we are basically on our own to protect ourselves in the best way we know how.
The statements enclosed herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Sources include Wikipedia, webMD, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Mayo Clinic.
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