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.