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Drugs in Our Drinking Water?

Experts put potential risks in perspective after a report that drugs are in the water supply.

Is there a health effect of drugs in drinking water?

All sides of the debate agree this is not known for sure. "At this point we don't have evidence of a health effect," Rudzinski says, "although it's an area of concern and one we will continue to look at."

Janssen agrees: "We don't know. It's true that the levels [of the medications found in drinking water] are very low. But especially when it comes to pharmaceuticals that are synthetic hormones, there is concern, because hormones work at very low concentrations in the human body."

"We don't want people to be alarmed and think they can't drink their tap water or that they shouldn't be drinking water," Janssen says. "We think this report in particular is a call for our federal agencies -- EPA in particular -- to do further studies to see what the health effects are."

EPA's ongoing research is focusing on the effect of pharmaceuticals in the water supply on aquatic life and human health, Rudzinski says. But she could not supply details of how much money is being allocated to that research effort or when to expect answers.

Are certain people -- say pregnant women, children, the elderly -- more sensitive to the potential effects of drugs in the drinking water supply?

Again, it's not known, Janssen says. "We know that kids, including babies and toddlers, as well as fetuses, are more susceptible to environmental exposures because their bodies are still developing and their exposure on a pound-per-pound basis is higher. And they lack the detoxification system adults have. So it is not unreasonable to expect they would be at higher risk."

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