A crack team of Associated Press journalists report that U.S. manufacturers, including major drug makers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water.

As part of the AP’s “PharmaWater” investigation, reporters cross-referenced the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of industrial chemicals it tracks that are released into rivers and lakes, with the Food and Drug Administration’s list of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Here’s the part that made me take another look at my glass of water:

“Last year, the AP reported that trace amounts of a wide range of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in American drinking water supplies. Including recent findings in Dallas, Cleveland and Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, pharmaceuticals have been detected in the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans.”
Because of the lack of testing data, the AP couldn’t identify what percentage of the chemicals came from drug manufacturers versus other companies, and many ingredients in drugs are also used in other goods, but nicotine compounds used in quit-smoking products accounted for 3 million of the 271 million pounds of chemicals released in the water.

Other chemicals included antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide, which accounted for 92 percent of the chemicals released, as well as 8 million pounds of the skin bleaching cream hydroquinone, and 10,000 pounds of the antibiotic tetracycline hydrochloride. Others include treatments for head lice and worms.

The muckety-mucks at the drug companies and the government told the AP the majority of the contamination is our fault, we flush old pills down the toilet and excrete drugs our bodies don’t absorb. They said manufacturing plants aren’t a significant source of the drugs in water.

But that doesn’t jive with the data the AP got from a series of open records requests, which showed treated wastewater from sewage plants serving drug factories had significantly more medicine residues.

It’s a long piece, but definitely worth a read. I’m going to the store to buy a water filter.

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