Food Chain Radio Discusses Mitigating the Problem of Pharmaceuticals in Our Drinking Water


photo: J. Novak

We've become a nation dependant upon drugs. For better or worse, we use pharmaceuticals for everything from getting to sleep to waking up. We use them to stabilize our moods and to increase our sex drives. But what happens to these drugs once we're done with them? Lloyd wrote a while back about an AP story that stated that pharmaceuticals are ending up in 41 million American's drinking water. On a recent episode of Food Chain Radio, Michael Olson talked with Alan Roberson of the American Water Works Association and environmental attorney, George Mannina to find out what to do about it. Our water treatment facilities are not equipped to handle all of the drugs that end up in our water. And bottled water is no better because it usually comes from the same sources. As Lloyd said The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires hundreds of tests each month on municipal water supplies, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates bottled water, requires only one test a week on bottled water.

This is no new phenomenon but its effects are becoming more apparent as testing technology evolves. Testing technology has gone from being able to test water in terms of parts per million to parts per billion. The impact of some of these drugs is more clear than others. For example, antibiotics are showing up in our drinking water, which is scary when you consider that 65,000 Americans die per year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. Some of the drugs have even been linked with diabetes, breast cancer, and kidney problems. Even worse, healthcare facilities dump about 250 million pounds per year, which could end up in our water supply. These hazardous drugs could include oncology drugs and toxic pain killers.

Mitigating The Problems of Drug Contaminated Water
We can talk about it until the cows come home, but what can we do to fix the problem? First of all, we need to come up with a means of properly disposing of unused pharmaceuticals that linger in our medicine cabinets. Most parts of the country don't have a means of disposing of residential hazardous medical waste like they do for other hazardous waste. Both Mannina and Robertson urge you to inform your congressman that you want a proper disposal site for such materials in your community.

As far as medical facility waste goes, the EPA has guidelines in place to regulate the disposal of hazardous medical waste. The problem is that medical staff are sometimes untrained regarding compliance criteria. Staff must first determine whether particular material is hazardous and then determine the appropriate method for disposal. Medical waste, according to Roberson, should be disposed of at available burning facilities that burn the material at extremely high temperatures. The temperatures are so high in fact, that the chemical bonds are broken.

More on Drinking Water:
A World of Reasons to Ditch Bottled Water
EPA Looking at Regulation of Gender Bender Chemicals in Drinking Water
1.5 Million Children Die a Year From Diarrhea - Unsafe Drinking Water, Lack of Handwashing to Blame

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