The Associated Press reported this week that a vast array of pharmaceuticals have been found in the drinking water of 24 major U.S. metropolitan areas, heightening concerns of long-term consequences to human health. The drugs include anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.“While the scientific community does not yet know of any human health effects from trace amounts of these chemicals, the water sector is committed to finding out,” Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), said in a press release. Drinking water providers work closely with public health specialists, and consumers with health-related questions should contact their local health departments or their doctors.

He said AMWA strongly encourages U.S. EPA to make research into treatment technologies a high priority. Other recommendations of the AMWA include:

  • U.S. EPA and FDA must address whether the presence of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals result in short-term or long-term effects on human health and how such chemicals affect the environment.
  • Water utilities should take steps to keep their consumers informed of their efforts to monitor and remove pharmaceuticals from water sources. Just as water utilities need data to make informed decisions, we believe that consumers should have the information they need to make personal health decisions.
  • Animal feeding and production operations should endeavor to reduce their contributions of antibiotics and steroids into water supplies, and that industry should drop its efforts to seek liability exemptions from federal hazardous waste laws.
  • The federal government should take the lead in developing a national program to provide consumers with an easy way to dispose of unused prescriptions. Likewise, the government should revise federal guidelines that currently encourage consumers to flush certain unused prescriptions down the sewer system.
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According to the Water Quality Association, home filtering systems are the best protection for consumers concerned about pharmaceuticals in their drinking water.

“While utilities are required to meet safety standards set by the U.S. EPA, home filtering systems act as a final contaminant barrier and can further purify water for drinking,” the association said in a press release.

The WQA said that, according to Utah State University Extension, up to 90 per cent of oral drugs can pass through humans unchanged and then move through wastewater into streams and groundwater.

“It is generally cost prohibitive for utilities to use systems such as nano-filtration, long contact activated carbon, and reverse osmosis,” the association said. “However, these top technologies have proven successful at removing many contaminants in home water treatment systems.”

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