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Medication and Painkillers in Your Drinking Water

Medication Tablets

Is our current drinking water safe for human consumption? Why are so many medicines like antibiotics etc being found when the water is tested?


In the rural area of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Penn State researchers conducted testing of rural wells. This research was done along with volunteers from the University's Pennsylvania Master Well Owners Network to test 26 household wells. they were located in nine counties near the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

Water samples were tested for seven substances; both over the counter and prescription. Of the list that was tested, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ampicillin, caffeine, naproxen (Aleve), ofloxacin, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim, at one of the compounds were found in all 26 wells. But the good news according to (Gall, 2018), the concentration of these pharmaceuticals were extremely low.
And while none of the concentrations in the wells posed any significant human health risk, the risk assessment does not address the potential effect of exposure to mixtures of medications that are likely present in water at the same time. The concern is that small amounts of mixtures of medications could interact and influence the functioning of the human body.

And this problem is not focused on just those few medications. (Dohney 20088), reported that other medications besides antibiotics were making their way into our drinking water. Substances such as hormones, mood stabilizers, and other drugs are being found in tested wastewater centers. The medications are finding their way into water in two ways. One is when the person takes the medicine and absorbs some of it passing the remainder into the wastewater via their urine or feces. The other way is when people erroneously flush out of date or leftover medications down the toilet.

One of the biggest concerns is that scientist are finding oral contraceptives in sewage water. Fish in the Potomac River and elsewhere here found to have both male and female characteristics when exposed to estrogen-like substances. She went on to say (Dohney, 2008) that boiling the tap water will not solve the problem. And as for bottled water, 25% of drinking water comes from the tap. And home filtering systems (Pur, Brita) are helpful in removing some of the drugs in the water, but their activated charcoal systems to help. The preferred method to dispose of unneeded or expired meds is what is used in home care patients who have leftover meds such as painkillers. Take a gallon sized Ziploc type bag. Place medications into said bag. Add enough white vinegar to completely cover them. Mix until the medications are nearly dissolved then add kitty litter to absorb both the medications and the vinegar. Then they can be safely tossed in the trash.

In 2017, the USGS and EPA conducted testing of water from 25 drinking water treatment plants across the US. They reported 47 different drugs in water that was being sent to homes, supposedly clean and ready to drink. Astonishingly, not only doesn't the US government regulate drugs in drinking water but water utilities not only don’t filter them they don't even test for them. Researchers are quick to mention that the amounts of the drugs found in the water were only in trace amounts but studies have not been done to track the possible long-term effects of chronic exposure. Could the continued low-level exposure to antibiotic be adding to the problem of disease-causing bacteria that aren't affected by antibiotics? That definitely is something that needs to be pursued.

This is not a new concern either. In 2005, Trends in Biotechnology published an article that mentioned the need for monitoring the amount of drugs found in drinking water, the minimal amounts allowed, and steps to filter these drugs out of the water before it is sent to homes for human consumption (Jones, Lester, and Voulvoulis, 2005).

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The World Health Organization has voiced their concern for medications leaching into the water systems and has been taking a hard look at how most drinking water is purified. One method is by using chlorine can remove about 50% of the compounds, chloramines are less effective about removing drugs including antibiotics. It is thought by attacking the problem with a two-prong plan the drugs can be reduced by 90%. One is an education program to convince people not to simply flush unwanted or unneeded medications down the toilet. The other is to add a step to the treatment process by running the water through activated carbon and reverse osmosis before being released to the public consumption.

Works Cited
Doheny, K. (2008). Drugs in Our Drinking Water? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guidelines/features/drugs-in-our-drinking-water#1

Furlong,E., Batt, A., Glassmeyer, S., Noriega, M., Klopin, D., Mash,H., Schenck, K. (2017). Nationwide Reconnaissance of Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Source and Treated Drinking Waters of US: Pharmaceuticals. Science of Total Environment, 579. Elsevier. Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.128

Gall, H. (2018). Small Amounts of Pharmaceuticals Found in North Central PA Rural Well Water. Penn State University. https;//live.psu.edu

Institute for Natural Healing. (2017). Your Tap Water Likely to Contain at Least 8 Drugs. INH. https://institutefornaturalhealth.com/2017/05/tap-water-likely-contains-least-8-drugs/

Jones, O., Lester,J., and Voulvoulis, N. (2005). Pharmaceuticals: A Threat to Drinking Water? Trends in Biotechnology,23(4). Elsevier. Doi: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2005.02.001

World Health Organization. (2012). Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int