It's been going on for years
AP Probe Finds Drugs in our Drinking Water
While we focus on alternative media, we want to make sure major stories do not slip by. We trim this quite long 2008 article from the Associated Press on March 9.
by Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza, and Justin Pritchard, AP WritersDrugs have been detected in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas -- from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky -- supplying over 41 million Americans.
The concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose.
But medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body at very low concentrations.
Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly, and the very ill might be more sensitive.
Small amounts of medication have affected human cells: cancer cells proliferated too quickly; kidney cells grew too slowly; and blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.
How do the drugs get into the water?
People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers, or lakes. Some of the water is cleansed again at treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.
Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12% to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion.
The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested.
Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.
New York City water officials, who declined requests for an interview, insisted that "the city's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations " -- regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.
In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise.
Watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests conducted in 35 major watersheds detected pharmaceuticals in 28.
The AP also contacted 52 small water providers that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals. Officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP's questions, citing post-9/11 issues.
Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either since nearby septic tanks can leak.
Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40% of the nation's water supply. Water from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots has minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs.
Cattle are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10% of the steroid passed right through the animals.
Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.
Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity -- sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8%, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years.
Pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe. Male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life -- such as earthworms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory.
Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and streams throughout the world.
Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.
One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.
There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.
Users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.
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