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Drinking Water of 41 Million Americans Contaminated with Pharmaceuticals

By bananaskin, May 4, 2010 | | |
  1. bananaskin
    An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has revealed that the drinking water of at least 41 million people in the United States is contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs.
    It has long been known that drugs are not wholly absorbed or broken down by the human body. Significant amounts of any medication taken eventually pass out of the body, primarily through the urine.

    "People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," EPA scientist Christian Daughton said.
    While sewage is treated before being released back into the environment, and water from reservoirs or rivers is also treated before being funneled back into the drinking water supply, these treatments are not able to remove all traces of medications. And so far, the EPA has not regulated the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, meaning that there are no laws in existence today that protect consumers from this increasingly dangerous chemical contaminant of the water supply.

    Medications for animals also contaminating the water supply
    Drugs given to animals are also entering the water supply. One study found that 10 percent of the steroids given to cattle pass directly through their bodies, while another study found that steroid concentrations in the water downstream of a Nebraska feedlot were four times as high as the water upstream. Male fish downstream of the feedlot were found to have depressed levels of testosterone and smaller than normal heads, most likely due to the pharmaceutical contamination in their water.
    "It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans?" said EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson.

    While the concentration of drugs in drinking water tends to be low, some medications, such as hormones, are able to operate potently even at concentrations of one part per billion. To make matters worse, there is evidence that the chlorine commonly used to treat drinking water may make some pharmaceutical chemicals more toxic. Thus, the typical claim that "pharmaceuticals are only present in very low concentrations, and therefore could not be dangerous" holds no water (pardon the pun). Not only are some chemicals potentiated (made more toxic) by other chemicals in the water, but to date, there have been absolutely no studies looking at the increased danger posed by combinations of pharmaceuticals now being found.
    In other words, nobody knows the level of risk that may be associated with the chemical cocktail of pharmaceuticals now being found in the water supply. No one can say with any degree of honesty that the drug contamination is safe, meaning that the real risks to human remain entirely unknown.

    56 different drug chemicals in the drinking water

    To determine the extent of drinking water contamination, an Associated Press investigative team surveyed the water providers of the 50 largest cities in the United States and 52 smaller communities, analyzed federal databases and scientific reports, and interviewed government and corporate officials.
    The investigation found widespread evidence of drinking water contaminated with both over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including painkillers, hormones, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, and drugs for cancer or heart disease. Of the 28 major cities that tested their water supplies for pharmaceuticals, only two said those tests showed no pharmaceutical contamination. In Philadelphia, 56 different drugs and drug byproducts were found in treated drinking water, and 63 were found in the city's watershed.
    Of the 35 watersheds that had been tested, 28 were found to be contaminated. Deep-water aquifers near landfills, feedlots and other contaminant sources in 24 states were also found to contain pharmaceuticals. This means that even in rural areas where people get their water from wells, drinking water might still contain drugs.
    According to researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe of the Stroud Water Research Center, watersheds in rural areas can be contaminated when people's septic tanks malfunction. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," he said.

    Cities do not test the water for pharmaceutical pollution

    Even these numbers do not give the full scale of the problem, the AP suggests, because many water providers simply do not test for this kind of contamination, which is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of the 52 small water providers surveyed by AP, only one screened its water for pharmaceuticals.
    Other providers do screen, but they conceal the results from the public. According to a group that represents California water providers, the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" from such tests and therefore does not need to hear it! Even companies that test and report their data often screen for only a few chemicals, creating a skewed impression of how contaminated the water actually is.
    Water bottling companies also do not screen for pharmaceutical contamination in their water products. It is highly likely, at the same time, that soft drink bottling companies using local tap water supplies to make their beverages are potentially using pharmaceutical-contaminated water.

    The EPA sticks its head in the ground over pharmaceutical pollution

    According to Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, researchers looking into the extent of water contamination are avoiding the important questions.
    "I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health," Snyder said. "They need to just accept that these things are everywhere; every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental."
    A total of over 100 pharmaceutical products have been detected in water supplies in North America, Europe and Asia, including remote regions such as Swiss lakes and the North Sea. And bottled or filtered water, the AP report notes, is not necessarily safer, as the filters used in homes or bottling plants are rarely designed to remove pharmaceutical residue.

    Drug companies, for their part, have done nothing to accept responsibility for the environmental health impact of their polluting chemicals. In fact, Big Pharma hasn't even yet acknowledged the fact that their products are "pollutants" in any way. Like most pharmaceutical consumers, the drug companies hope to just flush this issue down the toilet and pretend it never existed.

    The health impact of pharmaceutical contaminants in water

    Very little research has been conducted on the specific effects of trace drugs in drinking water, but what evidence is there gives cause for alarm. Contamination of environmental water sources has caused male fish to exhibit female traits and led to damaging effects on other wildlife species. Laboratory research indicates that small levels of drugs can cause cancer cells to proliferate faster, slow kidney cell growth and cause inflammation in blood cells. At a time when the American population is suffering from skyrocketing infertility and hormone imbalances, it seems outrageous that health authorities would not be looking more closely at this issue and working on ways to protect the public from pharmaceutical pollution.

    Because water is consumed regularly in large quantities over a lifetime, and because humans are exposed to many combinations of dozens of different drugs, the effects on the human body may be significantly greater than those seen in the lab. And unlike most pollutants, drugs are specifically designed to cause changes in the human body, thus they are far less likely to be "inert" than other chemicals that might be found in the water supply.
    "These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations," said zoologist John Sumpter of London's Brunel University. "That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects."


    http://www.enn.com/pollution/article/38022

    From:Organic Consumers Association
    Published August 26, 2008 09:08 AM

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    I can't find a similar story (surprisingly) using search

Comments

  1. bananaskin
    Re: A post I found on blog

    Pharmaceuticals lurking in U.S. drinking water
    AP probe found traces of meds in water supplies of 41 million Americans

    Drugs in your drinking water?
    March 10: A shocking Associated Press investigation finds various pharmaceuticals in the drinking supplies of at least 41 million Americans. NBC's Tom Costello reports.
    MSNBC


    By Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza and Justin Pritchard

    updated 11:06 a.m. ET March 10, 2008
    Editor's note: First of a three-part series.

    A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

    To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

    But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

    From California to New Jersey
    In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

    Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

    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. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

    The ins and outs of drug metabolism
    A furnace can’t burn a whole lump of coal; some is wasted. Your body can’t use all the medicine you take either; some is excreted.

    How much of a drug passes through the body depends on the particular medicine.

    Some drugs are very efficient performers, according to data collected by chemist James Shine at the Harvard School of Public Health. The body metabolizes, or uses up, more than 80 percent of the pain reliever acetaminophen and the antidepressant fluoxetine. These metabolized portions are used by the body to make you feel better.

    Other drugs are harder to metabolize, but at least half is used. That’s true of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin and of digoxin for heart problems.

    Yet other drugs, like metformin for diabetes and atenolol for high blood pressure, are not metabolized as much, and at least 80 percent of those pills end up in the toilet.

    Once waterborne, the remains of pharmaceuticals find their way into sewers and streams — and eventually into drinking water.

    The concentration of a particular drug in water supplies also is determined by how much is taken and how readily the specific drug breaks down in the environment.

    Source: The Associated Press
    And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

    “We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

    Key findings
    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.

    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. Among the 34 that haven’t: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

    Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

    The AP’s investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation’s water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

    Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

    The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city’s water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

    City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.


    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23503485/
    March 10th, 2008


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