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Drugs in Your Drinking Water—Should You be Worried?


April_Blog_pills_2015-4Next time you take a sip of unfiltered tap water, ask yourself whose medication you’re ingesting. With almost 70% of Americans on at least one type of prescription medication, water supplies increasingly test for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, from over-the-counter painkillers to opiates and high blood pressure medications.

Pharmaceuticals enter our water from several sources, including the human body. Our bodies use only a small amount of the pharmaceuticals we ingest. The remainder is excreted through urine, after which it enters wastewater systems. Cream and lotion medications enter the environment when people bathe, with alarming results. It’s estimated one prescription for testosterone cream adds as much of the hormone into the environment as the natural output of three hundred men. The toilet often becomes a receptacle for many unused medications, which people simply flush—a problem in both private residences and many nursing homes.

It’s not just personal use that adds pharmaceuticals to water. Water downstream of drug-producing factories contains high levels of pharmaceuticals. In addition, agriculture generates two trillion pounds of animal waste a year, much of it laced with hormonal medications and veterinary antibiotics.

How Bad is the Problem?

The EPA published a nationwide study in the January 2014 edition of Environmental Pollution. The EPA examined samples from fifty large wastewater treatment plants and tested for fifty-six drugs. Over 50% of the sites tested positive for at least 25% of the drugs. High blood pressure medication appeared in the highest concentrations at most sites.

The million-dollar question, of course, is what long-term exposure to trace amounts of pharmaceuticals does to our health and the environment. At present, health officials believe such exposure offers only a low risk to human health, with pregnant women and the elderly at the most risk for adverse effects. We don’t, however, have any real evidence either way—this is a new problem, and one we’re only just starting to study.

We do know pharmaceuticals have a definite and negative impact on fish, frogs, and lobsters. Exposure to low levels of estrogen produces intersex characteristics in fish. This has lead, in some cases, to male fish producing eggs.

While some would point out that humans are not fish, they’re missing an important point. From a biological standpoint we’re not much different from other animals. While we may not display effects as dramatic as intersex fish, it’s quite possible we’re being affected by our increasingly drug-concentrated water.

What Can We Do About It?

Unlike most animals, we can take steps to solve this problem. We can’t do much about the prescriptions we excrete, but we can safely dispose of unused pharmaceuticals and demand stricter environmental guidelines on pharmaceutical production. At an individual level, you can protect yourself and your family with a Pelican whole house water filtration system capable of removing unwanted chemicals and contaminants from drinking water. This isn’t a mess we can clean up overnight, and until the problem is solved, the best you can do is to protect your home’s water supply.

Disclaimer: The information on this website has not been reviewed by the FDA. Products offered for sale herein are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease or health condition. No medical claims are being made or implied. Contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.

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