Drugs In Our Drinking Water and Rivers

Italian researchers went looking for therapeutic drugs in our drinking water and rivers and unfortunately found nearly every one that they tested for. They state that these drugs can contaminate the environment because of metabolic excretion, improper disposal, or industrial waste.

There are thousands of tons of drugs that are used by people yearly to treat illnesses, to prevent unwanted pregnancy, or to face the stresses of modern life, as well as widespread reliance on drugs in animal farming (e.g., antibiotics as feed additives, hormones, etc.). Some of these substances are excreted unmetabolised or as active metabolites; they escape degradation in waste treatment plants and enter the environment. Improper disposal of expired medication and manufacturing facilities can also contribute to this contamination.

Since pharmaceutical products can have long half-lives, they accumulate, reaching detectable and biologically active amounts. Several commonly used medicinal drugs, such as erythromycin, cyclophosphamide, naproxen, sulpha-methoxazole, or sulphasalazine, can persist in the environment for more than a year. Clofibric acid, the main metabolite of clofibrate, has an estimated persistence in the environment of 21 years and is still detectable in lakes and rivers even after its withdrawal from the market.

Researchers specifically tested for popular medications which are excreted unmetabolised (not broken down), plus some previously found in the environment, as well as others commonly used as growth promoters in animals

All drugs, with the exception of 2 were detected in river or drinking water or river sediments.

Although the concentrations measured in the water may result in human exposure much lower than those producing a noticeable pharmacological effect, possible effects of long-term exposures have still not been determined.

Lancet 2000; 355: 1789 - 1790

COMMENT: This finding is concerning because it means that all of us are actually being exposed to medications that we are not even taking. This includes pregnant women and children, who are much more susceptible to adverse effects from them. Many of these drugs are not even approved for use in humans. It is interesting that with all the problems of contaminants in our water (e.g., pesticides, herbicides, gasoline additive MTBE, chlorine, etc.) a much greater effort is expended to add fluoride to our water than cleaning up the existing supply. It is worth noting that there are no regulations in place requiring testing for these pharmaceutical contaminants or safety limits set.

So, not only do we need to be concerned about chlorine in the drinking water, but we actually need to factor in the drugs that are used or tossed away by society. Fortunately this is easy to avoid. All we need to do is to drink bottled water or good filtered water. It is important to note that for a variety of reasons one should avoid distilled water. Although it will be free of contaminants, it also acts like a vacuum and will suck out many of the beneficial trace minerals you need to stay healthy. Obtaining good mineral balance is hard enough; one clearly does not want to put a metabolic drain in their system by drinking distilled water.