Washington Post – The average American takes more than 12 prescription drug annusally, with more than 3.8 billion prescriptions purchased each year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The most commonly cited estimates from Environmental Protection Agency researchers say that about 19 million tons of active pharmaceutical ingredients are dumped into the nation’s waste stream every year.

The EPA has identified small quantities of more than 100 pharmaceuticals and personal-care products in samples of the nation’s drinking water. Among the drugs detected are antibiotics, steroids, hormones and antidepressants. Last year, [it was] reported that trace amounts of drugs had been found in the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas; water piped to more than a milllion people in the Washington area had tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

The EPA does not require testing for drugs in drinking water and has not set safety limits on allowable levels. While the minute quantities now being detected appear not to pose an immediate health risk, according to federal authorities, “there is still uncertainty about their potential effects on public health and aquatic life” over the long term, the EPA’s water chief, Benjamin Grumbles, told a Senate committee last year. But the impact of long-term exposure of drugs on humans as well as on other species is less clear. Hormone-disrupting pharmaceuticals, for example, are one possible cause of a high incidence of “intersex” fish in the Potomac River basin: male smallmouth bass producing eggs, females exhibiting male characteristics.

Until recently, federal guidelines recommended that surpluses of highly toxic medications be flushed down the toilet; the same advice applied to drugs with a high potential for abuse or “diversion” — the industry’s word for what happens, for example, when kids help themselves to the OxyContin or Percocet in their parents’ medicine cabinet. For other drugs, consumers have been directed to adulterate the medication by mixing it with an unpalatable substance — such as cat litter or coffee grounds — and put it out with the household trash.

But this spring, concerns about pharmaceuticals in the water supply led the Office of National Drug Control Policy to amend its advisory, telling consumers to avoid flushing unless the label or patient information specifies that method of disposal. The new guidelines still describe the cat-litter method of putting drugs in the trash, but they also encourage consumers to make use of community drug take-back programs.


Rowan Harper, New Scientist – A comprehensive survey of the drinking water for more than 28 million Americans has detected the widespread but low-level presence of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals.

Little was known about people’s exposure to such compounds from drinking water, so Shane Snyder and colleagues at the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas screened tap water from 19 US water utilities for 51 different compounds. . . The 11 most frequently detected compounds – all found at extremely low concentrations – were:

– Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease

– Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union, but still used in the US, which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behavior

– Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat bipolar disorder, amongst other things

– Estrone, an estrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender-bending changes in fish

– Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug

– Meprobamate, a tranquilizer widely used in psychiatric treatment

– Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence

– Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant that has been used to treat epilepsy

– Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic used against the Streptococcus bacteria, which is responsible for tonsillitis and other diseases

– TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology

– Trimethoprim, another antibiotic

The concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water were millions of times lower than in a medical dose, and Snyder emphasizes that they pose no public health threat. He cautions, though, that “if a person has a unique health condition, or is concerned about particular contaminants in public water systems, I strongly recommend they consult their physician.”. . .