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Drugs in Drinking Water

written by: •edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/24/2009

Drugs in water? Where do drugs go once they leave your body? Drugs exit your system, enter sewage treatment plants, rivers or lakes. Because conventional wastewater treatments cannot remove all the drugs in water, traces of residual medications enter the water supply affecting 41 million in the U.S.

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    Drugs in water are a growing concern among environmental scientists, and it isn’t just the personal manufacture and use of illicit drugs. New technologies make it possible to detect low levels of prescription and over-the-counter drugs in water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to this form of pollution as Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCP). A PPCP is any product an individual uses for personal health or cosmetic purposes or any compounds used to improve the growth and health of livestock. This means a PCCP may include shampoo, fragrance, lotion, makeup, vitamins and veterinary drugs.

    Drugs in water come from a variety of sources. A PPCP can enter the environment through daily grooming activity, vet treatment, agribusiness and residue from the pharmaceutical industry and hospitals. Medication passes out of the body and into sewer line. Topical drugs and personal care products, such as shampoo or sunscreen, rinse down the drain. Likewise, unused or expired medication is discarded in the trash. Steroids and antibiotics used to treat animals also make their way into the environment through waste water run-off.

    The research may transform your views of drinking water. A recent Associated Press (AP) investigation found 41 million people have access to drugs in water, including painkillers, hormones, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants in addition to cancer and heart disease medications, according to an affiliate article reposted at the Environmental News Network. The AP reported the presence of drugs in treated water supplies of 24 of the 64 metropolitan areas it surveyed. For instance, Philadelphia had 56 drugs and drug substances in the water. The concentrations of drugs in water are in trace amounts, being measured in parts per billion, and well below a medical dose.

    The effects of PPCPs on human health are not yet known, but studies suggest drugs in water cause ecological harm, according to the EPA. Some species have demonstrated resistance to pathogens because of antibiotics. Steroids can disrupt aquatic endocrine systems and interfere with metabolic and reproductive processes.

    Although drugs manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry are heavily regulated, the EPA has nothing in place to regulate the levels of drugs in water. According to the AP report, the pharmaceutical industry has not recognized the PPCP as a form of pollution. You can find out more about the class of pollutants called the PPCP at the EPA website or by contacting a local EPA representative. You can also reduce the effects of drugs in the water supply by learning and following government guidelines for proper pharmaceutical disposal.

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