Drugs in drinking water

Last March, I wrote in this space about the abundance of pharmaceuticals found in the source water for drinking supplies. A study out today updates the situation: It’s worse than we thought.

The AP reports:

Chicago, for example, found a cholesterol medication and a nicotine derivative. Many cities found the anti-convulsant carbamazepine. Officials in one of those communities, Colorado Springs, say they detected five pharmaceuticals in all, including a tranquilizer and a hormone.

“This is obviously an emerging issue and after the AP stories came out we felt it was the responsible thing for us to do, as a utility, to find out where we stand. We believe that at these levels, based on current science, that the water is completely safe for our customers,” said Colorado Springs spokesman Steve Berry. “We don’t want to create unnecessary alarm, but at the same time we have a responsibility as a municipal utility to communicate with our customers and let them know.”

Fargo found small amounts but they were so small the water director sent them to the health director to figure out how to interpret the results.

  • Al

    I suspect before the morning is out that you’ll see someone suggest testing all water supplies for all drugs on the market. As an analytical chemist in the pharma industry, I can attest to the difficulty in testing samples for a few drugs. Also consider that a large number of metabolic products of the breakdown of the drugs should also be considered. To test all water for all drugs and metabolic products would be a nearly impossible task.

    A better approach might be to require testing during drug development to observe how drugs are eliminated from the body and how they react in the typical environments they are released into. This would have to apply to vet meds as well. A hang up in this approach might be that you would be working at the intersection of the FDA and the EPA.

  • JohnnyZoom

    I am concerned about the 500 pound gorilla as to why these end up in water supplies anyway.

    People flushing their unused/expired medication down the loo. No amount of industry oversight will impact that.

    As to testing how drugs are eliminated rom the body, I have learned from my consulting business that Big Pharma actually does a lot of that. I could be wrong, but I got the vibe that they had to.

  • Al

    From what I can tell, we need to know where the drugs go inside the body and how they get out. If a portion of the dose makes it into the toilet, that has not been the concern of pharma. The goal of metabolic testing is to determine where the drug is going and how it is breaking down to make sure it is: 1. doing what it is supposed to and 2. not harming any other body part. I don’t think what happens outside the patient enters into the equation. The studies aren’t required and why pay for a study that’s not required, particularly if it could only do harm to efforts at getting the product on the market? And do not underestimate the effects of veterinary meds on the levels of drugs in the water, particularly from large scale farming.