Think drugstores are the only place you can get prescription medication? An alarming study found that all you need to do is turn on your faucet.
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency tested water from 25 drinking water treatment plants across the U.S.
They found 47 different pharmaceuticals in the supposedly clean water being sent to homes.
One sample alone contained an incredible 41 different drugs. They detected an average of eight pharmaceuticals across all samples.
Not a single sample was drug-free.
Incredibly, the U.S. government does not regulate drugs in drinking water. Water utilities don’t filter them out. They don’t even test for them.
Drugs found in the study included:
- Muscle relaxants
- Blood thinners
- Blood pressure drugs
- Hormones from birth control pills
Erik Olson is director of the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council. The group monitors pollution across America.
“People may find it hard to believe, but this country still doesn’t require our drinking water systems to remove prescription drugs,” he said.
Olson said most water plants “use outdated treatment technologies” that don’t remove pharmaceuticals.
How Drugs Get into Drinking Water
Drugs get into groundwater in many ways… From people flushing unused prescriptions down the toilet, manufacturing waste, landfill seepage, and runoff from farms where animals are treated with medications.
But most drugs get into the water through excretions from our own bodies.
Medications you take are not entirely absorbed by your body. Some of the drug passes right through you. It ends up in the toilet.
Sewage plants do not filter out drugs before releasing wastewater into the environment. Eventually the drug-contaminated water ends up in municipal wells.
Researchers point out that most of the drugs in tap water are found in only trace amounts. But the danger comes from long-term chronic exposure. There is very little research on the effects of getting small amounts of drugs every day.
Some medications can accumulate in body tissue, building up over time until they reach a toxic level. This is particularly a problem in older people. They metabolize drugs more slowly than younger people.
Drugs in drinking water may also interact with medications that people are prescribed, causing dangerous side effects.
Another big problem is antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics are spread through the water supply, it triggers the rise of “superbugs.” These are disease-causing bacteria that can’t be killed by antibiotics.
Continual low-level exposure to antibiotics through drinking water can render them powerless to fight off a serious infection.
Bottled Water Won’t Protect You
You might think that switching to bottled water would solve the problem. But most bottled water comes from municipal water supplies. There’s no guarantee that it won’t be just as contaminated as tap water.
The best way to protect yourself is to filter your water. The least expensive option is a carbon filter that fits atop a pitcher. It will remove some—but not all—medications.
The most effective filter combines carbon filtration with reverse osmosis. These systems fit under the sink. They remove most contaminants and cost around $200.
Many refrigerator water filters are now also designed to remove drugs.
No matter which filter system you choose, check the manufacturer specifications to make sure it will block pharmaceuticals.
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