In a five-month investigation AP (Associated Press) discovered that drugs, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones have been detected in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas - from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.
Traces of painkillers and other drugs have also been found in the drinking water of 15 southern Ontario municipalities, reported a study led by University of Waterloo biology professor Mark Servos and published in the March issue of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada.
AP reported that other studies have as well detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, and Europe - even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea. Japanese health officials even called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.
One may ask, what are pharmaceuticals doing in our drinking water and how do they get there?
Pharmaceutical industry is a world-wide multi-trillion-dollar business and they will sell drugs for as long as people get sick. When people start taking better care of their health and not get sick as often or at all, the amount of drugs will be significantly reduced.
With this said, people consume a large amount of drugs each year. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped back to the consumers.
That's where the problems begins. Most treatments do not remove all drug residue from the water.
It almost sounds too simple to be true, but when we add the medications that we dump in our garbage and end up in landfills, the pharmaceutical waste from medical institutions, the waste from drugs given to animals, such as pets and livestock, it all ads up when it reaches the water.
While researchers do not yet understand the exact health risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of pharmaceuticals in the water, recent studies - which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public - have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.
AP reported that recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.
However, if you ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, officials will tell you no. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Another issue is that there's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals even more toxic.
Though pharmaceutical sales are rising, plants that cleanse sewage or drinking water are not required to remove drugs. They aren't even required to monitor for them. Plus, the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.
"Wastewater treatment plants work well for what they are designed for," said John Peckenham, director of the Maine Water Resources Research Institute and a research scientist at the University of Maine's George J. Mitchell Center for Watershed Research., "but they are not designed to take [pharmaceuticals] down to trace levels. It would cost billions and billions of dollars to do that. We're not sure it's feasible to remove them."
One may ask, why is it that when tax payer's money are wasted on ridiculous lawsuits and projects and programs of a little to no benefit, no one is complaining, but when the health of people is concerned, all of a sudden we're not sure if it's feasible?
University of Waterloo biology professor Mark Servos said that a number of methods for removing the drugs are being explored in Canada, and that UV light, with peroxide, ozone and different kinds of carbon, can help reduce the presence. Servos said two Ontario companies, in London and Mississauga, are on the verge of developing the technology to remove the drugs.
Perhaps the other governments should follow the Canadians in the effort to remove the drugs from the drinking water for their people's benefit.
Until the governments decide how to keep our drinking water drug-free, the obvious immediate solution would be to switch to bottled water. Right?
Well, the federal standards for acceptable levels of pharmaceutical residue in bottled water are the same as those for tap water: There aren't any!
And why is it that we're always concerned with "acceptable levels?" If it's not supposed to be there, it shouldn't be there at any levels.
Anyhow, some water that's bottled may come from pristine, often underground rural sources; but other brands have a source no more remote than the local tap water.
So where should the public turn to drink safe, pure water?
One of the solutions would be a little costly solution but a wise investment - to install Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System in your home. Reverse Osmosis is known as the most thorough method to filter water.
Another solution would be to look for bottled water that is truly coming from remote locations that are uninhabited and not overpopulated with people, such as perhaps the claims from the Filette water makers. But, do your own research before making a decision.
When you do your research online, beware of solution-claims coming from everywhere from companies trying to profit on this news, such as companies offering all kinds of "rather funny" solutions to be safe after 9/11.
Look at every claim and check the background and the potential intentions of the claim whether it really offers a solution for the pharmaceuticals in the drinking water problem or whether they're just trying to profit from the news.