While drinking plenty of water has been touted as essential for living a healthy life, several studies over the past couple of years have shown that our water supply may also present some health hazards.

A paper published in 2008 by researchers from the Associated Press National Investigative Team reported that, in the course of a five-month investigation, they discovered trace amounts of estrogen, as well as more than 50 prescription drugs, in the water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas around the United States. These drugs consisted of a vast array of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones.

How Did It Happen?

Health officials explain that one way that drug residues contaminate drinking water supplies is the result of people taking medications for various reasons such as pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, mental illness, heart problems, and so forth. While their bodies absorb some of the medication, the rest is flushed down the toilet, and drinking water treatment plants are not designed to remove these pharmaceutical residues.

Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC, says that anyone drinking tap water in most American cities is essentially taking hormones with their glass of water.

Although most of the levels of the contaminants meet current drinking water guidelines, studies have shown that mutations and sex organ changes in aquatic species, such as frogs, occur at levels far below those limits.

While researchers have not yet determined the effect of estrogen exposure from the water supply on humans, the sex mutations on aquatic life have been cause for concern.

Other culprits contributing to the estrogen levels in our drinking water supply include:

Industrially-raised livestock. The hormones pumped into industrially raised livestock often eventually find their way into municipal water supplies.

Pesticides. Carcinogenic pesticides are routinely applied to American food crops. Atrazine, which has been found to cause gender mutations in amphibians and fish, is one of these.

Prescription drugs. These include estrogen-laced birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.

What to Do

Buy organic. Many of the conventional farming methods used today pump unwanted drugs into our water systems. Certified organic farming methods, however, do not incorporate the use of hormones, antibiotics or steroids. Buying organic will not only keep you safe from contamination, but also increase the demand so that organic farming practices continue to grow and reduce conventional practices that use chemicals.

Stop flushing outdated or unused medication down the drain. There are programs in place to accept old pharmaceuticals. If your local pharmacy doesn't accept old medication, you can contact your state and local waste management authorities.

Filter out contaminants. A simple carbon filter attached to your tap will be effective in filtering out the harmful contaminants, whether you use well water or a municipal water source. Bottled water is not any safer as there are few EPA regulations governing bottled versus municipal water. Many bottled water plants use tap water as their source and plastic containers for their products. Furthermore, bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals.

Bottom Line

It's still important to drink plenty of water to keep yourself healthy, but be sure to follow the suggested action steps to reduce your exposure to hormones and pharmaceuticals.



"Pharmaceuticals Again Found in U.S. Drinking Water." Environmental News Service. 10 Mar 2008. Web. 24 May 2010. http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2008/2008-03-10-099.asp

Pyhtila, Holly. "Pink Water: Plastics, Pesticides, and Pills Are Contaminating Our Drinking Supply." Earth Island Institute Journal. Autumn 2008. Web. 24 May 2010. http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/pink_water/