The Associated Press has released an investigative report on the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water across the nation. The report cites several specific drugs – anti-anxiety, anti-epilepsy, and even sex hormones – in results from water tests at plants from California to New York.
For several years, the U.S. Geological Survey has been studying the same issue. This 2002 report points out that industrialized areas, especially with waste water discharges into major waterways, are hotspots for pharmaceutical concentrations:
“A recent study by the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that a broad range of chemicals found in residential, industrial, and agricultural wastewaters commonly occurs in mixtures at low concentrations downstream from areas of intense urbanization and animal production. The chemicals include human and veterinary drugs (including antibiotics), natural and synthetic hormones, detergent metabolites, plasticizers, insecticides, and fire retardants. One or more of these chemicals were found in 80 percent of the streams sampled. Half of the streams contained 7 or more of these chemicals, and about one-third of the streams contained 10 or more of these chemicals. This study is the first national-scale examination of these organic wastewater contaminants in streams and supports the USGS mission to assess the quantity and quality of the Nation’s water resources. A more complete analysis of these and other emerging water-quality issues is ongoing.“
Also, CRC Press’ 2007 book, “Fate of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment and in Water Treatment Systems” examines, in part, how new technology is better at detecting the presence of drugs in water. And the journal Environmental Engineering Science ran this 2003 article exploring, in part, new methods for removing drugs from waste water. Those are just a few examples of the growing body of science on the topic.
So, the AP report may not raise a new issue, but it certainly shines a light on a troubling and yet-to-be completely understood phenomenon. It points out what we don’t know, as well as what we do know, and both deserve more attention.