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  • David Smyth

Are There Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water?

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

When you fill a glass of water from the faucet, whether it’s well water or city water, there’s a chance that you’re getting more than hydration. According to the Associated Press, you could be drinking a witches’ brew of pharmaceuticals: drugs for aches and pains, infections, seizures, blood pressure, hormones for menopause, drugs for depression, plus good old caffeine.

How did drugs get in my water?

Pharmaceutical use is on the rise in the U.S., with nearly half of all Americans taking one or more medications. Of those medications, studies suggest half of all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter are discarded. Many of these drugs are flushed down the toilet or sink by instruction or due to improper disposal. Not to mention leachate from landfills.

Of the drugs actually used, only a fraction is absorbed in the body. The rest passes through the body and down the toilet where it goes through sewage processing or septic system. Often, pharmaceutical drugs pass through sewage processing plants, as they are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals from the water. Of the pharmaceuticals captured by sewage processing, some are released in the form of concentrated sewage sludge used for fertilizer.

How much medication is in my water?

The federal government doesn’t require testing and hasn’t set safety limit on many types of drugs in municipal drinking water. As a result, testing is inconsistent or even nonexistent. However, an Associated Press investigation in 2008 uncovered test results in 24 major metropolitan areas that had detectable levels of pharmaceuticals.

Of these municipalities that participated in the investigation, pharmaceuticals were measured in parts per billion or parts per trillion. This is equivalent to drops of water in an olympic size swimming pool at the higher end.

Well water falls under less strict and inconsistent regulation and is often untreated. In addition, faulty septic systems can release pharmaceuticals and other contaminates in the water table. As a result, there may be an increased risk of pharmaceutical contamination in well water.

Do pharmaceuticals in drinking water pose a risk to my health?

Concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water are typically far below levels of a medical dose. However, scientists are concerned over the undocumented effects of chronic low dose exposure to antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones, and more contaminates over the course of many years.

Unlike human studies, wildlife studies have been well documented. Numerous studies show that estrogen and similar chemicals have a feminizing effect on male fish and can alter female-to-male ratios. Intersex fish, with both male and female sex characteristics, have been found in heavily polluted sections of the Potomac River. Studies of fish upstream and downstream of wastewater treatment plants have found more female and intersex fish downstream from the plants, possibly due to higher estrogen levels. Other research has found antidepressant medications in the brain tissue of fish downstream from wastewater treatment plants.

What can I do to protect my water?

According to the Associated Press investigation, bottled water companies typically do not test for pharmaceuticals, nor are they required to. However, some companies source water away from human activity, reducing the risk of contamination.

Aside from getting water tested, exploring home filtration options are recommended. The proper home water filtration system reduces pharmaceuticals, in addition to heavy metals, VOC’s, chlorine, fluoride, pesticides, fertilizers, and other contaminates. However, a simple activated carbon filter will be limited in its ability to filter contaminates.

An example of an advanced filtration system would be the Smyth/Cid Water Filtration Crock. The AquaCera Cerametix filters included with our water filtration crocks reduce many types of pharmaceuticals.

These systems are gravity-fed, requiring no electricity or running water to operate, which make them ideal as a primary water filtration system, and also a backup system in case of emergencies.

It is important to note that with any filtration system, contaminate reduction will slowly diminish over time, which is why it is recommended to change your filter on a regular basis.

Please note: articles on are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Please consult your regional public health official for information regarding the safety of your water supply.


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