The Associated Press finished a 5-month study and found both prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas.   Everything from painkillers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to prescription drugs for epilepsy and high cholesterol to hormones. 

Many utilities don’t test for pharmaceuticals.  It’s not required by EPA.  And utilities are under the gun to keep costs down, so they typically run the analyses mandated by law (which are already numerous and expensive).  The assumption is — if there were a potential problem, the regulatory community would already require testing and limits would be set. 

The regulators have been gearing up to monitor and control microconstituents (their word for new trace-level contaminants) for a while now.  With the AP study out in the open, that schedule will surely be ramped up.

Although the AP study found pharmaceuticals in both surface and ground water supplies (before treatment) and in some treated drinking water, their likely more prevalent in surface water sources. 

The big question is–what do we do about it?  Most water treatment methods aren’t designed to remove pharmaceuticals.  The methods that possibly can, such as reverse osmosis, are extremely expensive.  And the byproduct is a highly concentrated form of the contaminants removed.  Where do we dispose of that sidestream?

One way to help minimize the problem is proper disposal of prescription or nonprescription drugs that you don’t intend to use.  Instead of flushing them, put them in a plastic ziplock, crush them and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter.  Put the ziplock in the trash. 

We’ll be hearing more about this issue.  The American Water Works Association has some good informtion on their Drinktap website.  Check it out.

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