Ecosystem Threats,  Featured,  Global Threats,  Health,  Science,  Toxic Exposure,  Water Pollution

Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water?

By Roberta Attanasio

The problem of contaminated tap water in the U.S. goes well beyond Flint—and also beyond lead. There are many more toxic chemicals in our drinking water that we like to believe. Communities in New York, New Hampshire and Vermont recently found elevated levels of PFOA, a suspected carcinogen, in their water supplies. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a synthetic perfluoroalkyl chemical used to manufacture nonstick pan coatings and water-resistant clothing. And, even more recent is the finding that water discharged from Burlington’s wastewater treatment plant into Lake Champlain—the source of drinking water for tens of thousands of people in the Burlington area—contains concentrations of pharmaceuticals high enough to reflect demographic shifts in the city.

Image credit: Global Panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0

The presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water from different U.S. areas has been know for more than a few years. A report publicly released in 2011 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed that drinking water in some metropolitan areas contains pharmaceuticals, and raised concerns about their potential impact on human health.

According to the World Health Organization “Pharmaceuticals are synthetic or natural chemicals that can be found in prescription medicines, over-the-counter therapeutic drugs and veterinary drugs. Pharmaceuticals contain active ingredients that have been designed to have pharmacological effects and confer significant benefits to society. Pharmaceuticals can be introduced into water sources through sewage, which carries the excreta of individuals and patients who have used these chemicals, from uncontrolled drug disposal (e.g. discarding drugs into toilets) and from agricultural runoff comprising livestock manure. They have become chemicals of emerging concern to the public because of their potential to reach drinking-water.”

Emma Rosi-Marshall, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and lead author of a study published in 2013 on the effects of pharmaceutical pollution on aquatic life and water quality, said in a press release: “Pharmaceutical pollution is now detected in waters throughout the world. Causes include aging infrastructure, sewage overflows, and agricultural runoff. Even when waste water makes it to sewage treatment facilities, they aren’t equipped to remove pharmaceuticals. As a result, our streams and rivers are exposed to a cocktail of synthetic compounds, from stimulants and antibiotics to analgesics and antihistamines.”

Results from a study published this year in the journal Science of the Total Environment show that water samples from private wells on Cape Cod are contaminated not only by perfluoroalkyl chemicals and flame retardants, but also by a dozen different pharmaceuticals. The researchers found that sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections, and carbamazepine, a drug used to treat seizures, nerve pain, and bipolar disorder, were among the most common pharmaceuticals detected. The researchers also found that the pharmaceuticals were present at concentrations orders of magnitude lower than those found in a therapeutic dose. However, Laurel Schaider, the study lead author, said in a press release: “But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing to worry about. Drugs are intended for specific uses and can have side effects, and we don’t give certain medications to pregnant women or children because the developing body is very sensitive.”

Another concern is that people might have allergies to some of the drugs that contaminate the water. Antibiotics, for example, are known to cause allergic reactions in susceptible people. These reactions can be severe—they include symptoms that range from hives and wheezing to the potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

In the press release mentioned above, Schaider also said: “People often don’t think about where their tap water comes from. But it’s really important that they do and that they take steps to make sure it’s safe.”


  • Sara Abdulla

    I am surprised to read that pharmaceuticals are so rampantly infesting our water, not because of the infestation itself, but because it may have an effect on our well-being. I recall when I was younger, and the neighborhood boys would try to persuade us that our drinking water was actually urine, filtered out. While that’s probably not actually how it works, it’s peculiar to me that trace amounts matter to us, rather than just animals.

    I wonder if there’s anything to be done about this, besides “damage control.” Can we clean the water that’s routed through our sewers and into our drinking glasses?

  • Kristen Russell

    As an employee of a local, independent pharmacy, surprisingly, I see the threat of pharmaceutical-contaminated water frequently. I cannot count the number of times a patient has entered into the pharmacy with bags full of expired prescription medications or drugs he/she is not taking anymore looking for a proper disposal method. We are thankful these patients come to us and ask because most people simply flush their medications down the toilet or sink. Having active ingredients from medications in our drinking water is a major health concern with risky consequences, so the FDA has a method that does not effect our water. The problem is, however, is not a lot of people know this or do the research — they simply flush the pills because it is easier.

    According to the FDA, you can safely dispose of medications in your household trash. They ask that you mix the medications with either coffee grounds or kitty litter, place it in a sealed bag, and simply throw it away with your garbage. If you do not feel comfortable using this method, the DEA holds national drug take-back programs where collection sites (i.e, police stations) are set up for the safe disposal of medications.

  • Corine W

    This was a great informative read, and one that does not come as a surprise to me. Please keep in mind that this is going on in a country in which it is hard to find bottled water with simply just the ingredient “water” written on it and nothing more. Today’s bottled water can contain magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, and magnesium sulfate. This seems a bit excessive for such a simple beverage as water. There are claims that these ingredients are used to enhance the taste of water or to add minerals to the diet. In addition to this, the FDA allows small amount of contaminants in bottled water, as long as it is kept under a certain level. This includes bacteria called coliform, arsenic which we have spoken briefly about in class, and phenols. I challenge you to read a the ingredients on a bottle of water next time you drink.
    I think this is a definitely an issue that should be tended to quickly, no matter where it is occurring. I agree with many of the posters that this could be contributing to our problem of antibiotic resistance. One of the most common pharmaceuticals detected, sulfamethoxazole, can further aggravate conditions for those with autoimmune disorders. My question is what is being done to prevent this from happening? Even though the pharmaceuticals are in small amounts “deemed” harmless now, in the future it could definitely pose a problem. Considering our lack of fresh drinking water available, we should do what we can now to care for it the best we can.

  • SM

    The issue concerning water contamination just as affrometioned in the article does indeed go beyond Flint, Michigan. Improper usage or disposal of many of our daily products have been shown to also be a contributory factor. And the idea that some pharmaceutical products makes its way to our drinking water is alarming. Pharmaceutical drugs or products contain some chemicals that when not handled or used correctly could lead to multiple effects. And knowing this same toxic substances makes its way to freshwater is also concerning not only for current generation but also for the future generation. I believe just as the article states educating people about large about the potential risks associated with contaminated water would in turn I believe raise awareness and lead to people taking action in hope of reducing the risks.

  • Yele Toure

    There is a famous french proverb by Olivier Blanchette which states that “l’eau est source de vie” , meaning that water is a source of life, because we, as humans, can live without anything but water. When growing up with this in mind, and after reading that article, the only thing I can think of is how water that is supposed to give us life, be now contaminated will all the pharmaceuticals that can lead us to death? Yes! I say death because when I read the article I am not thinking about the fact that the doses present in the water are mild. I just think about how much water we have been consuming since we are born, and how that mild dose everyday is becoming worst as we go. Consequently, the only thing that I see now is how people can protect themselves from now on because the government does not seem to care about the population.
    The only measures that are found are related the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA such as: improve the design of the drugs such as they can be eliminated in the body and not go into excretion, FDA should be harsh regarding the approval of drugs, produce only necessary drugs. I found this feasible, so I do not understand why they are still not done yet.
    Because the measures are only related to them, but it seems that they do not want to take actions, I believe that they should at least find measures that could be applied to the population, to us. Consequently, we can have the choice of whether or not we want to take our own actions, and whether or not we want to save ourselves. That would be more fair to us, and it could save us some damages along the way.

  • hwondwossen

    It was also very alarming to me to find out that the water we have been consuming contain such pharmaceuticals mentioned in this post. This was the first instance of me reading about water contamination with pharmaceuticals. According to the article, the U.S. government only took accountability in recent year and admitted the drinking water in some metropolitan are contain pharmaceuticals and raise some concern over potential harm to the population. Just as the flint crisis I feel like they are down playing the severity. I believe there need to be an extensive study needs to be done into water contaminations not only in metropolitan areas but other areas. Nevertheless, as you mentioned we really don’t know what kinds of side effect we will be facing with past and potential future exposures unless something can be done about it. In this study, a new analytical technique was used to effectively trace Carbamazepine, a anti-epileptic drug, and its metabolite found in urine that is recalcitrant compound. This drug has a high absorbance by crops in farms from contaminated underground water. The technique provided a selective and sensitive quantifications of the Carbamazepine and its metabolite in urine in the environment. This allow for a previously difficult detection in sewers to become a lot easier for cleanup efforts in the future. In searching up more studies on pharmaceuticals clean up I have noticed not a lot of study is being done to improve this issue. I am not sure f this is because pharmaceutical contamination of drinking water isn’t considering a priority or not but neglecting such a huge public health concern is only going to hurt us in the long run.

  • Bukunmi Oyewole

    This article talks about the presence of pharmaceuticals within the common person’s drinking water, which not only raises concern about the health effects on those who have consumed it, but also the length of time this problem has been present. Despite the drugs have been found in low concentration that are below the normal prescribed amounts , this still creates a form of danger to those drinking this water due to not only the mixture of them , but also take into consideration possible allergens to medications and what prolonged exposure can do to people. It simply raises flags that this situation has occurring for the past few years. It raises questions of the integrity of the United States water filtration and purification system, where else problems like this can be occurring without our knowledge. Review and possible remediation of water centers may be in the immediate future.

  • Christina Ochuba

    There are so many chemicals polluting our drinking water today. The EPA requires drinking water treatment plants to test for up to 90 different contaminants and of that 90 surprisingly pharmaceutical drugs are absent from that list. This is frightening because there has been a growing concern regarding pharmaceutical drugs being found in our drinking water. A majority of these drugs are getting into our water because of people disposing of their medicines in the toilet. Even after FDA advised that people mix them with kitty litter or coffee grounds before putting it in the trash or dumping it at a collection site, people still result to flushing their prescriptions down the toilet. One thing I found interesting was that our body metabolizes only 90% of drugs that we intake, so the other 10% is either excreted through waste or sweat so, either way, these drugs are going to affect our water. However, if people can start disposing of their drugs the safe way as FDA advised that would minimize a majority of the drugs present in our water today. People drink water all the time so we cannot solely rely on wastewater treatment plants. We do not know how these drugs are affecting us, but the potential of risk is still present, and we cannot take that chance especially when pregnant women, the elderly, and young kids are drinking this water. Some believe that the problem could be solved if doctors lowered the dose of medication. I personally disagree with this because reducing the dose of medication for a patient might not be beneficial for them. Some people suffer illnesses that require a higher dose of medication and just because the dosage is lowered doesn’t mean people will stop flushing their medicine down the toilet. I think the best solution is to educate people about our drinking water, the different things that are currently affecting it, and ways that we can prevent people from experiencing negative effects from our water.

  • Eloy Sanchez

    If the antibiotics that are found in drinking water are still relatively active, the potential for the antibiotics to increase antibiotic resistance can also be an issue. Being that we already have an ongoing problem of antibiotic resistance, the possibility of drinking water contamination by antibiotics perpetuating the problem is of high concern. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not the only pollutant capable of causing health concerns. Some of these pollutants are not even regulated. It should also be noted that a lot of the contaminants found in water are not only a result of human pollution. A lot of chemicals occur naturally such as arsenic, manganese, mercury, and selenium. Granted, these elements do not do much to your health at low concentrations, but the problem is the increasing concentrations of these chemicals as a result of current industrial waste disposal procedures.

    Part of the problem is the lack of awareness of the issue. If you were to ask anyone if they know of the variety and amounts of chemicals that are present in their drinking water, most people would say no. This lack of awareness stems from the fact that the effects of water pollution are not readily apparent to people in developed areas. The problem also extends beyond humans into the ecosystem.

    From my experience, most people do not care about what happens to animals and plants in the wild as long as they get what they need. This attitude is also very common within the government when they are making the choice between money or conservation and sustainability. To a lot of people, if the government is not doing anything about water pollution, then why should they? Therefore, if prevention is not viable then we may have to resort to developing filtration systems that strive to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in water and to enforce stricter regulation procedures.

    • Patrick Nguyen

      Reading this blog post and taking an overall look at the sustainability model that we have been talking about in class, it seems to me that there is one common problem tying the water crisis together. That problem is a lack of concern, knowledge, or to simply put it ignorance on our part. The water crisis in Flint exemplifies the lack of concern on the part of city officials. By trying to cut cost, they failed to understand the consequences of their actions and now the lives of people have to pay the price. The situation presented in this blog about how pharmaceuticals are now detected in the drinking water highlight our ignorance on proper drug disposal. One possibility to stop this problem is education. We need to educated people on the potential hazards of throwing chemicals and unused drugs away and also the proper way of disposal. Although it is stated in the blog that the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are at low concentrations, it should be pointed out that having all these different drugs with different functions mixed together in drinking water could affect us and animals living in their environment. For example there have been drugs that have affected fish by alternating their eating habits and anxiety.
      With that being said, Eloy I agree with your statement that you made about how people do not care about what happens to plants or animals as long as they get what they want. Unfortunately some people really don’t care about this situation until it personally affects them whether it’s their business or their own personal health. Until then these people will continue with their habits which will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the lives of other people and the animals in the environment. In order to counteract that there needs to be new treatments in placed to treat pharmaceutical contaminated water. Current treatment approaches fail to remove most of the pharmaceuticals in water. There are new technologies that can help remove the pharmaceuticals in drinking water. One them is using carbon filters with uses activated carbon. One study has shown that is has helped removed 90-98% of pharmaceutical residues. Another new treatment is onzonation. Through this treatment electron rich structures in molecules are attacked due to ozone being a selective oxidant. Studies have shown that up to 95% of pharmaceutical residues can be removed.


  • Marlena Hollifield

    It is quite disturbing that not only are some areas of the United States, as well as those around the world, have an issue with emptying aquifers but the remaining water and water in the system used for drinking water is contaminated with chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Water could be argued to be the most important element in existence, especially for life. Yet somehow it has become a dumping ground for multiple dangerous compounds without regard for the consequences on human, animal and environmental safety and development. It is very unsettling that human beings have ruined our natural resources due to carelessness, greed and side effects of developing society. As of now, many scientists are attesting to the danger and potential threats looming with regards to the chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the water. According to the World Allergy Organization, infant allergies are on the rise, mostly those associated with food. This makes sense, since contaminated water is used to harvest and grow crops used to feed citizens. While the long term effects of the water contamination on human development and immunity is far from being understood, it is not a leap to be concerned that the effects of even small “non-therapeutic” dose of medication can be detrimental those humans especially infants. While the contamination has occurred and there is not much can do regarding that aspect of the problem, unless we had a time machine, we can prevent further contamination and develop methods for obtaining water from sources other than the bodies of water that are contaminated until they can be properly cleaned. We should take note of inventions such as those by Arturo Vittori. He invented a special tower designed to absorb water from the atmosphere. In order to protect our immune systems, future generations and the rising threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria, filtering and ensure our drinking water is clean should be one of the highest priorities!

  • Rmichel

    Although the chemicals in the water may be at a level that the human body can sustain, what will become of us as time progresses? Will our bodies still be able to withstand any harmful effects of this contaminated water? Scientists have already proven that chronic exposure to the low level of drugs in Lake Monroe of Indiana, the main water reservoir, causes lower reproduction rates and embryo development issues in zebra fish. Yes, fish and humans are not the same, but this does provide us with a glimpse of what could be if we don’t take steps to resolve this issue. Experts recommend that pharmaceutical companies find novel ways to dispose of their waste and even change the formulas of drugs to accommodate the water treatment process, which does not cater to many chemicals found in pharmaceuticals.

  • THarris

    This article was about pharmaceuticals being in the publics drinking water, which is a scary thought. The article does mention the concentrations being lower than the therapeutic dose. Some people might find that comforting but nevertheless people are still ingesting it. I enjoyed how the article ends on Schaider saying people need to take steps in making sure the water they drink is safe. Water is a universal solvent, so it has the ability to dissolve almost anything it comes in contact with. With this in mind, although water may look safe there is a chance it is not. The first way to be safe is to have your water tested. This can be done by the local water supplier or a state- certified lab. It’s also possible to test the water yourself. (2) At home test kits can test for: Bacteria, lead, pesticides, nitrates and nitrites, chloride, hardness, and more. The Water Quality Association has a few methods for point-of-use solution to treat water before consumption. One is the activated carbon, that filters out benzene, various pesticides, lead, and more. (1) It is recommended to at least test for coliform bacteria and nitrates because they are tied to intestinal illnesses and blue baby syndromes for infants. Knowledge is power, so the next thing is to get informed on the different contaminants that might be in your water. This way it can be known what device can protect you from them.
    1. At the Faucet. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from
    2. How to tell if your water is safe | BabyCenter. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from

  • Iddy Mokom

    At least with the rooting around I’ve done on various sites, it seems like the levels of these pharmaceuticals are not high enough to cause any acute problems, but I think that this post and the linked article do raise valid concerns for a potential disaster in the future. I also wonder if there is a chance that the antibiotics that are being put into water sources will contribute to the buildup of resistant strains that will affect anyone who associates with the water source. While there is much work to be done in figuring out a proper industrial disposal of pharmaceuticals, it sounds like what will have the most immediate and impactful effect is for the general public to properly dispose of old medications. The FDA has a list, which they are continually revising, of medications that are considered safe to be flushed down the toilet (1). The FDA even recommends putting the drugs in a sealable plastic bag with coffee grounds, dirt, or kitty litter (2). Drugs that are not safe to flush can often be returned to local police departments, or some other government building, for proper disposal. I’ll even put a list of these places for the state of Georgia below (2)


    • Rajayi

      Drug-resistant bacteria were the first thing that popped in my head too after reading this article. Not only are antibiotics already misused a lot (sometimes with wrong prescriptions or people just taking them for any little headache or even a viral infection!), they are also getting introduced to our water sources? This can eventually lead to a recipe for some super-resistant bacteria. According to Wright, S. anti-biotic resistant urinary bacteria are already on the rise just from trimethoprom-sulfamethaxazole prescriptions alone.
      I agree with informing the public and giving safer methods of disposing the medications. Relying on the public to fix this problem totally might not be super efficient though as non-compliance has always and will probably always be an issue. In addition to informing the public, I think the pipelines used for transporting our water should be augmented in a way that there would be no cross-contamination. Better water recycling and purifying techniques could also be used in addition to the public help and better pipes.


  • Csom1

    The advances in industry and medicine have been widely beneficial to mankind but the unseen consequence of our improvement has polluted our water supply. These contaminants include “antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids.” The U.S. Geological Survey found these pharmaceuticals in 80% of the rivers and streams they surveyed since 2000. The number has likely increased since then. The improper disposal of drugs has been a concern and been researched by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE). They state that the “possible health concerns include hormone disruption, antibiotic resistance, and synergistic affects” as well as the “alteration of behavior and reproductive function of fish and mollusks” due to antidepressants. These are just a few known outcomes; the danger comes from the side affects and the surprise cocktail of drug interactions. The lack of information about proper disposal of these drugs has lead to this epidemic. These problems can effects pregnancies, childhood development and other wildlife that unknowingly utilizes contaminated water sources. The FDA’s guideline for proper disposal is to locate take-back programs or to throw the drugs in the trash and not down the toilet. The drugs should also be mixed with unsavory substances to make them less appealing to children and pets and to be put in bags to prevent leakage. The water supply needs more careful monitoring and programs to actively remove these substances. Without awareness and actions we are doomed to be in fear of the water in our faucets.

  • Tanderson

    The original article emphasizes the newly prioritized and drastic effects pharmaceutical drugs being released into the environment. Specifically, these effects and concerns were focused on the human population. I’m not a huge animal-activist but I hate to see anyone or anything taken advantage of or left-out. So not including animals or wildlife organisms in this conversation would be unjust. We do not live our entire lives outdoors and in the actual environment like animals do. In fact, wildlife is exposed to the contaminated water and environment for much longer periods than humans are. We have treatment plants and precautions to help lessen the amount of pharmaceutical drugs in our water or food, but animals do not have this luxury. They take food and water as it comes. So I was interested to learn about the effects these released drugs had on other forms of life, besides our own. A study was done on the environmental effects, and a section was devoted to animals. Changes in a demographic can apply to animals, not just humans as mentioned in the article. Insects affected by pharmaceutical drugs can be changed physiologically and behaviorally. Other drugs can affect fish development and fertility. Antibiotics have the ability to affect animals that live in the soil by off-setting the sensitive ecosystem and environment. So not only are we depleting the Earth of freshwater, but we are ruining what we have with more than just lead like in Flint, Michigan. We are drastically out-numbered by other forms of life. Insufficient and contaminated water will affect these organisms, but humans definitely use the Earth more than our counterparts. This takes us back to what we discussed in class for two weeks. As the dominant users of Earth’s resources, we have to learn moderation AND “system thinking.” We already know the damage waste and apparently pharmaceutical drugs can do. Now we need to accept the problem, and make a commitment to fixing it. Some companies and workers have already started by controlling disposal of labeled pharmaceutical drugs, such as hospital-waste water. If the sources of pharmaceutical waste were better controlled, we would have less in our water. If we don’t make an effort to stop overusing and contaminating water, not only will we lose one of our most precious resources, but also many sources of food and organisms that keep us alive.

    • Aigner Smith

      Tanderson makes a valid point in mentioning how not only are the chemicals negatively affecting the human population but they are also affecting the animals. One thing that this made me consider is how humans implement this behavior. In addition to the chemicals that animals are exposed to in the environment, animals are also being used as a vector to bring more pollution to the environment, affecting animals and humans. Of course, the animal is not at fault but the humans are, as we continue to use animals in research and dispose of the waste in the environment. According to the link below, millions of animals are used in research and they produce an abundance of waste. They produce food waste, chemicals, diseases, even viruses. Also ground water and air are polluted due to incineration and soil pollution. So, not only are animals being affected by the pollution, but they are being used by humans to cause even more pollution. Going down this path, pharmaceuticals won’t be the only thing that we have to worry about being in our drinking water.


  • Andrea Castro

    I’m sure while reading this article many arrived to the supporting evidence in the article that mentioned that researchers found that pharmaceuticals were detected in lower concentrations than the therapeutic dose and thought, “then why is pharmaceutical contamination in water such a big deal?” Considering there are a significant amount of pollutants found in water like lead and mercury with more serious side effects, I know I did. However, I then arrived to the part of the article that mentioned a concern for those with drug allergies that could come across a drug that can trigger an allergic reaction in their contaminated water. According to an Associated Press investigation, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones have been found in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans. Keeping in mind common drug allergies to drugs such as penicillin-type antibiotics, sulfonamide-containing antibiotics, NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen, etc., it is important to note the potentially serious threat being posed on those with drug allergies consuming drinking water with possible traces of these drugs. Although no major health effects have yet been detected by the EPA, the matter should not be overlooked due to the possible allergic reactions that can arise by pharmaceutical contaminated water potentially causing sudden side effects such as hives, anaphylactic shock or death that may arise from simply drinking a cup of tap water. This is more so something to fear because it is not easily detectable and even more worrisome because water pollution by pharmaceuticals has been a concern for decades and has proven unreasonable to completely eradicate due to the pharmaceutical contamination of wastewater through feces, consumers flushing pills down toilets and also because most water treatments fail to remove all drug residue. It is important to note that not only is this contamination making its way into our drinking water, but also to rivers in which the fish we consume inhabit. After learning about the potentially serious long term health effects posed by consuming lead contaminated drinking water, I believe it is important to research the potential long term effects of consuming pharmaceutical contaminated drinking water, more specifically, the unknowing consumption of drugs that are not specifically prescribed to us through pharmaceutical contaminated water. Perhaps increased antibiotic resistance may arise by the continuous consumption of small traces of antibiotics or sudden mood swings may arise from the discontinuous consumption of antidepressants or even a serious drug interaction may arise from a drug unknowingly consumed through drinking water and a prescription someone may take daily. This is definitely one to look into.

  • TBui

    The fundamental element of survival for all creatures including ourselves is water and its scarcity and contamination is something we should put as top priority in solving. Freshwater has already been depleted because of global warming and air pollution but now we have to face the issue of pharmaceutical contamination in our drinking waters. Pharmaceuticals is indeed a potential need for the entire human population as it can save our lives or helps us maintain a stable lifestyle. However, these pharmaceuticals may not only contaminate our drinking waters but also waters in agriculture or wild animals we feed off of. Pharmaceuticals present in water may show defects in animals or the destruction of agriculture. When we consume these contaminated food or agriculture, we may develop certain diseases or illnesses. However, researchers are now trying to change the chemical structures of pharmaceuticals so they can be degraded in the body and in sewage treatment system before contaminating our waters. They’ve chosen propranolol for their study and changed its chemical structure but still has the function of treating heart problems and high blood pressure. This could be a potential strategy to reduce further pharmaceutical contamination in our drinking water in the future.

    Tushar Rastogi, Christoph Leder, Klaus Kümmerer. Re-Designing of Existing Pharmaceuticals for Environmental Biodegradability: A Tiered Approach with β-Blocker Propranolol as an Example. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 150908080052000 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03051

  • Ltran

    The perpetuating problem with low concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in [private] wells is a complex issue that requires a collaborative effort. Although the concentrations measured by the researchers were significantly lower than the therapeutic dose, the current water crisis should act as a catalyst in recognizing the actual significance of these low concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in a water source that is almost entirely depleted. Furthermore, researchers have observed the extensive influence pharmaceutical-contaminated water has on important ecological systems that may result in detrimental consequences for higher trophic levels. The concentrations of pharmaceuticals in water can only increase if the causes for these issues are not addressed as the availability of necessary freshwater is diminishing right before our eyes. Domestic drinking water wells are often more shallow, increasing the chances of higher pharmaceutical concentrations in the water. Domestic wells are used in communities that are served by onsite wastewater treatment systems, providing source for pathogens and chemical contaminants in ground water in areas with high septic system density. The causes for these issues include aging infrastructure, sewage overflow, agricultural runoff and improperly equipped mechanisms of purifying drinking water.

    To put it blunting, human existence bears the fault for the current global climate and water crisis. Urbanization, increasing population, deforestation, and overall zealous misuse of the Earth’s resources without regard to the consequences of an increasing population in demand of resources that are being depleted at record breaking rates- play a detrimental role in our current global climate and water crisis. Fortunately, we come equipped with the means of addressing these issues; however, I understand that this is a more complex issue that requires significant financial support, education on the long term impact of pharmaceutical therapy and possible preventative measures, placing importance in knowing where your water is coming from and how it is being purified, and electing official representatives who place high priority in implementing efficient regulations for optimum water quality of the wells and aquifers that remain viable, as well as the global climate as a whole. In a collective effort, we can help minimize the large carbon footprint that we have already begun to leave.


    Rosi-Marshall, E. J., Kincaid, D. W., Bechtold, H. A., Royer, T. V., Rojas, M. and Kelly, J. J. (2013), Pharmaceuticals suppress algal growth and microbial respiration and alter bacterial communities in stream biofilms. Ecological Applications, 23: 583–593. doi:10.1890/12-0491.1

    Schaider, L. et al. (2016). Septic systems as sources of organic wastewater compounds in domestic drinking water wells in a shallow sand and gravel aquifer. Science of the total environment, Volume 547, 15 March 2016, Pages 470–481. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.12.081

    • Tuan Vo

      LTran, I agree with your point of view on this issue. Human negligent is absolute to blame for this aquatic pharmaceutical pollution problem that we’re encountering right now. Aside from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and agriculture farms negligently dumping their chemical water waste into the sewage system we also have to take into account the negligent of hospitals and the general public as well.

      First of all, chemicals can also get into the water from the drugs we use. Our bodies metabolize only a fraction of most drugs we swallow. Most of the remainder is excreted in urine or feces and therefore gets into wastewater. Topical medication such as creams or lotions, the unabsorbed portions of those medications can contribute to the pollution problem when they get washed off. Aside from our unintentional actions, what do you think regarding what people do regarding theirs expire prescriptions medicine? Yes, some of us may probably discard it through the right authority, but many people would just dump the med into the toilet or the trash. These chemicals eventually ended up into the sewer system, and then to our aquatic environment and causing such rising in our marine pollution.

      Health care institutions are another source of pharmaceutical water pollution. Some hospitals are probably less of a problem than other because their strict protocols regarding unused drugs but many do not. Many healthcare facilities especially nursing homes have often been guilty of flushing medications down the toilet or drain after a patient dies or is transferred to another facility. And the unspoken rules for getting rid of opioid painkillers, which make disposal down the drain an acceptable option, have inadvertently encouraged some nursing homes to dispose of all their leftover medications that way.

      Problems will continue to rise if we don’t take actions. In my point of view, there are a few different ways I can think of that we as the general public should do to cut down such an issue. First, limit the bulk purchase of over the counter drugs, this way peoples can cut down from discarding their unused medications. Second, use drug take-back programs to take back drugs locally and properly incinerate and discard them. And finally do not discard our medications down the drain and trash. If we can be more mindful regarding our actions, we may be able to create a better cleaner future.

  • Ashley King

    The idea that there are pharmaceuticals and other chemicals floating around in our drinking water is of major concern. Even in a developed country such as the United States, we too are facing the reality that our water might not be as safe as we are told. In several states, they have found evidence of chemicals such as PFOA a possible carcinogen and several pharmaceuticals either over the counter or prescribed within the drinking water. We are not aware what interactions or problems may arise with these chemicals present in our water. In the study Occurrence removal and risk assessment of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in an advanced drinking water treatment plant (ADWTP) around Taihu Lake in China, they found that even when using the guidelines for purification techniques there were three chemicals still found in the water. Those were caffeine, roxithromycin, and sulfamethoxazole. Caffeine has several drug interactions and when mixing with your medications it can cause effects such as increased heart rate, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, anemia, and can cause a caffeine overdose by increasing its effects ( Sulfamethoxazole can cross the placenta and is considered a class C in pregnancy which is not safe to take while pregnant ( There must be a reform in the way the water is treated, so that we know we can safely drink the water without worrying about the presence of harmful chemicals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *