Trace Pharmaceuticals in Water Supply Not a Good Reason to Drink Bottled Water

There's trace amounts of prescription drugs in the water; and the bike race sponsors want a pee test. Don't panic and drink bottled water. Really. Don't fall for it.

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.
Roughly half the US gets potable water from groundwater sources (wells). Groundwater is largely unaffected by wastewater effluents containing prescription drugs. So, there's a 50% chance that this risk is zero, wherever you live or travel stateside. Obvious exception for trips to China for the Olympics.
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.


Here's the marketing hook. It's true that bottled water is generally sourced from wells ("springs" in marketing talk) and is filtered to remove organics. If you live in the "other half," - the part of the population that relies on treated surface water for drinking - does that mean you should you be buying bottled water to prevent a hazardous exposure? No.

Get a point-of-consumption filter with carbon (pitcher or faucet mounted). It's what water bottlers use; and, it's what public water suppliers may optionally use to remove organic compounds that contribute off-flavors. A personal carbon filter removes the dope at home. Quite effectively.

Thanks a lot AP, for handing a dopey talking point over to the bottled water marketers. For your next act, you can test iPods for the presence of vinyl.

Addendum:: Three key items need to be added in order to fully understand this issue. These have received no coverage in the US print media. Say you saw them here first.

Theoretically, over-use of antibiotics may have selected for "resistant" bacteria in waste streams and downstream receiving waters. Resistant bacteria should be able to biodegrade antibiotics. This is not addressed specifically by the study, as reported thus far.

Metro areas around Chicago, IL, Waukegan, IL., Milwaukee, WI or Kenosha/Racine WI, all of which withdraw water from the Great Lakes, would likely not be affected by this issue, either because of the dilution factor, waste water discharging outside the basin, and/or because those cities may already use activated carbon to remove off-tastes. Media reports thus far seen do not address whether the study attempted to exclude for or account for these factors. But, just as with the groundwater vs surface water distinction cited above, another large segment of the US can reasonably be excluded from the issue. What's left is this.

Many municipal wastewater treatment plants discharging to rivers are not performing up to standards in the US - many bypass untreated wastewater and storm water regularly- because of the refusal of the Federal government for a number of years to enforce permit standards and include sufficient construction grant program funding in the budget to see them met.

There's really no point in doing elegant studies of treatment efficiencies on these dilute substances unless this more basic issue is first solved. It is unbelievable that this has not even been reported upon, thus far.

Via::Associated Press, "AP probe finds drugs in drinking water" Image credit::City of Hamilton, Ontario Canada– Department of Public Works, Bike Race

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