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Organic Consumers Association
The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan has drawn national attention to deadly and often underreported risks in the public water supply. Thanks to the chemical, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries and antiquated water systems, Americans are imbibing a witch's brew of drugs and chemicals often without realizing it. The contaminants get into the water through human drug waste in sewage, medicines flushed down toilets, agricultural runoff and the wide use of endocrine disruptors like pesticides, flame retardants and plastic-related compounds like phthalates and BPA. (BPA has ironically been used in bottled water that people drink to avoid tap water risks!)
When it comes to pharmaceuticals in the water supply, both drug industry and water treatment professionals say traces are so small they probably pose no public health risk but also admit that testing has begun so recently no one really knows the long-term effects. "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms," noted Mary Buzby, director of environmental technology for Merck.
Free--and Unwanted--Drugs in the Drinking Water
The sheer number of Americans taking drugs is one reason drugs in the water are becoming a problem--sixty percent of Americans now take prescription drugs. Direct-to-consumer drug (DTC) advertising has convinced millions of American to take statins, acid reflux medicines and assorted psychoactive medicines when, before DTC ads, the drugs were not nearly as popular. CNN reports that an astounding one fourth of U.S. women are now on antidepressants.
As early as 1999, a U.S. Geological Survey found "antibiotics, antidepressants, blood thinners, heart medications (ACE inhibitors, calcium-channel blockers, digoxin), hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), and painkillers," in the waterways reported Harvard researchers. Other studies found caffeine and the fragrance chemicals galaxolide and tonalide, they write.
The problem only grew worse and by 2008, the Associated Press reported that 46 million Americans were drinking water containing psychiatric, cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, heart and pain drugs as well as antibiotics.