Pharmaceutical Drugs Found in Tap Water

Two methods that are proven to remove pharmaceuticals from your water.

By: Alyssa Scavetta

Vitamins: great for your body, bad for your water supply. While a well-balanced diet should provide the body with the nutrients it needs, it’s also no secret why we take multivitamins. For vegetarians, they can give you the vital B12 your body craves; for those with an iron deficiency, they can help you regulate your anemia.

However, it’s also a well-known fact that whatever the body doesn’t end up using, it releases through urine.

Essentially, that’s where we start the water cycle.

And while it might not sound scary when it’s your own water cycle, consider the other pharmaceuticals you might be taking in from your neighbor, your friend a few blocks away, or a stranger within city limits — all through your drinking water.

And this isn’t a conspiracy, either. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that more unregulated pharmaceuticals (PPCPs) have been found in our nation’s drinking supplies, and in greater doses, than ever before. Further research reveals that at least 41 million Americans are being supplied water that has tested positive for pharmaceuticals. So where do we go from here?

How Meds Get In Your Drinking Water

To be clear, urine is just one out of a handful of ways pharmaceuticals are getting into the water supply. Understanding the water treatment process first and pharmaceuticals-in-water_body1foremost will tell you where the culprit lies.

Your drinking water is first pulled from rivers, streams, lakes or reservoirs. It is then disinfected with chemicals (like chlorine and chloramines) and pushed through a water filtration process. Finally, it is then sent through pipes to your faucet.

While you might think that your wastewater is safe because it has already been treated once, you might be missing a crucial step. The current treatment process for wastewater (a combination of coagulation, sedimentation, and filtration) has no mechanism that rids it of pharmaceutical byproducts.

Here are some other ways that pharmaceuticals get into your drinking water, that water treatment plants might miss:

  • Human activity (Bathing, shaving, swimming)
  • Illicit drug use
  • Veterinary drug use, especially antibiotics and steroids
  • Agribusiness
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing (well defined and controlled)
  • Residue from hospitals

There are a few ways that the federal government is trying to step in and help municipalities with this issue. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started a take-back program to mitigate the practice of throwing meds down the toilet and has also developed a list of acceptable drugs to flush. But more methods of contamination are still waiting to be addressed.

How Pharmaceuticals in Water Affect Americans

Before you panic, it’s important to note that most concentrations of pharmaceuticals are insignificant. As the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) puts it, most of these drugs show up in concentrations of less than 10 nanograms per liter.

On the other hand, some medications have been found in water at higher concentrations. For example, you could ingest an entire dose of lisinopril (also a blood pressure medication) in approximately one year through your tap water.

In a recent study, water samples were taken from 50 large nationwide water treatment facilities. Researchers found that more than half of the facilities tested positive for at least 25 drugs. Also, the EPA tested and found notable concentrations of hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic used to treat high blood pressure) in all 50 samples. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the samples contained two other blood pressure medications — metoprolol and atenolol — as well as carbamazepine (a treatment for seizures, nerve pain, and bipolar disorder).

The long-term impacts of this are currently unknown and unmeasured. So, in the meantime, it may be smart to err on the side of caution.

The World Health Organization (WHO) found that existing municipal wastewater treatment methods are limited and do not yet cleanse water of pharmaceuticals. Currently, even the most advanced water treatment methods — ozonation, photolysis, and ultrasound — only remove between 20 and 60 percent of pharmaceutical byproducts.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are ways to combat this issue where the city falls short. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies have combined forces to put together a helpful guide of filtration methods that do actually remove pharmaceuticals — all at the consumer level. Two such methods, reverse osmosis, and nanofiltration, have been proven to rid up to 99.99 percent of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. That’s good news worth cheering for.

Two such methods, reverse osmosis, and nanofiltration, have been proven to rid up to 99.99 percent of pharmaceuticals in drinking water.

Research, Research, Research

At the end of the day, do your research. If you choose to go with a whole house filter or drinking water filter, look for either the NSF or IAPMO logo.

As mentioned in previous articles, NSF is a third-party, nonprofit entity that develops standards for, tests and certifies clean water, food, and consumer products within the American market. Using their own labs, NSF tests under the mantra, “to protect and improve global human health. Manufacturers, regulators and consumers look to NSF to develop public health standards and certifications that help protect food, water, consumer products, and the environment.”

Similarly, IAPMO is an independent organization that develops and tests to certain energy codes, to meet needs both nationally and internationally.

They certify products based on their own set of standards. Alternatively, they can also certify products to other externally-mandated standards, like NSF.

The Aquasana OptimH2O® Reverse Osmosis + Claryum® filter is NSF certified to remove more than 95% of fluoride and mercury, 99% of lead and asbestos, 97% of chlorine and arsenic, plus 81 additional contaminants — including pharmaceuticals. Not to go without mentioning, it comes with an added remineralizer, so you can get back those healthy minerals your body craves — like calcium, magnesium, and potassium — for maximum filtration.

Products certified with the NSF or IAPMO seal of approval are meant to provide extra assurance to you, the customer, that the water filter you’re investing in actually does what it says it does. So you can finally drink clean, healthy water with peace of mind.