What’s in your water?

waste_water.jpg

It’s quite simple, really. People urinate. It goes to a plant (hopefully) where it is treated, dumped into a river where — downstream — it is pumped out for drinking water, treated (hopefully) and then sent to someone’s tap. What could go wrong?

Where to begin? First of all, not everything gets pulled out of ye olde water before it becomes drinking water, which is creepy enough. But now, the Associated Press finds in a nationwide investigation, a lot of the pharmaceuticals end up in your drinking water. Bodies absorb some of the medication being taken, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet.

Granted, it’s relatively small amounts that end up drinking water, but it’s not really known what the long-term health effect is. In Philadelphia, 56 different drugs were found.

None of this is going to surprise the experts. The problem was first identified in Germany years ago and similar studies, most notably by a Tulane professor, have shown similar results.

In addition to the obvious, what has some researchers concerned is that a large number of excreted antibiotics in the water will result in more powerful disease-inducing bacteria that will be immune to treatment.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been studying this issue for quite some time and has set up a fascinating Web site that includes research on the subject.

  • Judy

    So, is anyone proposing better disposal for unused drugs than flushing down toilets. ? Which is better, landfill, incinerator, or toilet?

  • Bob Collins

    The problem isn’t people are flushing unused drugs down the toilet. The problem is that the drugs are entering the water via their urine.

  • Judy’s comment has me thinking. Wonder if we’ll end up classifying Rx and other drugs as hazardous waste?

    -Julia

    Julia Schrenkler, Interactive Producer MPR | APM

  • Sorry, a bit fast off the mark there. I think Judy’s point is still an issue.

    No comment from the Water Processing people? Think state and federal regulations will pursue tighter regulations to deal with it? Can it be dealt with at all?

    -Julia

    Julia Schrenkler, Interactive Producer MPR | APM

  • Judy

    Oh, of course, the original post dealt with excreted drugs, but one of the links mentioned unused drugs. and i’m sure I’ve read that lots of folks don’t take their prescribed meds. So I still wonder, where’s the best place for disposal. As someone who has had a variety of negative reactions to prescriptions, I’d really like to know

  • Bob Collins

    Out Seattle way they set up a cooperative for people to get rid of prescription drugs (they found the same problem as the original post described). Group Health Cooperative is the name. There’s a story about it here. I assume you can send them there.

    Down in LaCrosse, they have a special program to take them at $3 a pound. Story here.

    Check with the local pharmacy, too.

    Courtesy of colleague Matt Thueson, here’s a link to the state’s advice (put it in the garbage) . See Web site.

  • c

    The water in the tap does NOT come from the river, ie Mississippi. Nor does it come from the Mississippi River that has been treated by a plant. As far as I know once the water goes to the Mississippi, FROM a sewage treatment plant, it goes onto the Gulf.

    Check with the Ramsey County Regional Watershed District.

  • Bob Collins

    Many communities along the Mississippi get their drinking water from the river.

  • bsimon

    “The water in the tap does NOT come from the river”

    It doesn’t come from the river unfiltered, but, in Minneapolis anyway, it does come from the river.

  • bsimon

    Here’s a fascinating story on where Mpls water comes from…

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/10/23/mplswater/.

  • Bob Collins

    I’m not sure of too many places where water is pulled from rivers unfiltered. But that’s not the point anyway to the AP investigation. The point is that the filters don’t strain the drug residue.

  • c

    Submitted URL shortened

    there.

    go there if you are afraid to get a drink of water out of the water fountain at MPR. Its the addess to St Paul Regional Water Protection Program.

    (Collins notes: Doesn’t really answer the question of what if any drugs are tested for. I’ve sent an email off to St. Paul water officials as well as some others in these parts.)