Drugs in Our Drinking Water?
Experts put potential risks in perspective after a report that drugs are in the water supply.
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."
Can boiling tap water get rid of the medicines, or would drinking bottled water solve the problem?
Boiling will not solve the problem, Janssen says. And forget bottled water
as a way to escape the low levels of drugs found in some public water supplies.
"Twenty five percent of bottled water comes from the tap," she says,
citing an NRDC report.
Labels on bottled water, regulated by the FDA, help consumers know what they
are getting, says Stephen Kay, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water
Association. If bottled water companies use water from municipal sources and do
not treat it further to purify it, the FDA views the source as legitimate but
requires the label to state that it is from a municipal or community water
system. Bottled water companies that use municipal source water, but then
treat and purify it by using reverse osmosis, distillation, or other processes
can label it as such using terms such as "purified water" or
"reverse osmosis" water.
Home filtering systems such as reverse osmosis may reduce the medication
levels, says Timothy Bartrand, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Drexel University,
Philadelphia, who participated in a National Science Foundation workshop to
develop a drinking water research agenda.
"An activated charcoal system will remove some pharmaceutical drugs but
not all," Janssen says. "A reverse osmosis system can also remove
What else can consumers do to find answers or improve the situation?
Contact your local public utilities and ask them what pollutants they test
for in drinking water, Janssen says, as one way to raise awareness of the
problem. Contacting your senator or congressman is another.
When disposing of expired or unneeded medications, don't flush them,
Rudzinski says. Instead, mix unused or unwanted drugs with coffee grounds or
kitty litter, something that will be unpalatable to pets. Put the mixture in a
sealed container so it's not accessible to children or pets and put the mixture
in the trash.