Drugs in drinking water?

6a01310fe55cd8970c0133f49707b3970b-600wiWhen it comes to pharmaceuticals in the water supply, both drug industry, and water treatment professionals say traces are so small they probably pose no public health risk. Yet they also admit that testing has begun so recently that no one really knows the long-term effects.

“There’s no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms,” noted Mary Buzby, director of environmental technology for Merck.

The sheer number of Americans taking drugs is one reason drugs in the water are a problem—60 percent of Americans now take prescription drugs. Direct-to-consumer drug (DTC) advertising has convinced millions of Americans to take statins, acid reflux medicines, and assorted psychoactive medicines. Before DTC ads, the drugs were not nearly as popular. CNN reports that an astounding one-fourth of U.S. women are now on antidepressants.

The Associated Press reported that 46 million Americans were drinking water containing psychiatric, cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, heart and pain drugs as well as antibiotics.

The government appears clueless.

It is not clear that decisive government action followed the reports. In fact, drugs in the drinking water system seem to be governed by a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy.

No one seems to know which compounds need to be removed or how to remove them from the water safely. And no one seems to know which government agency should step forward and take action.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the EPA monitors only about 10 drugs as “contaminant candidates” and no safety levels or required testing exist for other drugs. (The government does test for naturally occurring microorganisms like cryptosporidium and coliform bacteria, barium, copper, lead and other metals and herbicides such as atrazine.)

Clearly, drugs and chemicals in the drinking water are a huge, underreported problem which officials are barely addressing.

And, as we saw in Flint, what we don’t know about water safety can indeed hurt us.