Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finally Universal Healthcare in the US - Drugs in our Drinking Water - What it Means and What you Can do About it

A little over a month ago, I received a frantic call from one of my relatively relaxed mom friends wondering what she should be mixing her daughter’s powdered formula and cereal with given the Associated Press investigative report that revealed evidence of trace amounts of antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones in the drinking water of at least 41 million people. Since pre-mixed formula is no longer an option due to bisphenol-A and food co-ops in Brooklyn are banning the sale of bottled water what’s a mom to do?

The 2,550 word article concludes with this quote from Dr. David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany, "We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good”. After researching the topic, I am inclined to agree. However, I think it is important to have some perspective on the issue, because while alarming and in dire need of additional research, trace levels of pharmaceutical contaminants likely pose less of a risk than the known toxic chemicals being dumped worldwide by pesticide and plastic manufacturers.

What can you do to minimize exposure?

The bad news…the AP investigation found trace pharmaceuticals in well water, ground water and surface water and they posit that even many bottled waters are contaminated. In addition, my research found spotty evidence that home filtration systems remove all contaminants.

First and foremost, if you are concerned about your water, you can have your tap water professionally tested. The EPA provides links to State certified labs.

If you find that your water is indeed not potable, according to a March 11th statement from the International Bottled Water Association, bottled water is the way to go. (Shocking, I know.) In addition, a recent investigative Chicago Tribune/RedEye report found no indication of pharmaceuticals in three top bottled water brands in Chicago.

Personally, I’m a Poland Springs fan so I checked their website and found this rather impressive diagram of their purification process. While they do not test for pharmaceuticals the process seems rigorous enough that I am willing to risk it.

However, I would be remiss to not mention that bottled water is particularly draining on the environment. Production of bottled water is widely inefficient and is said to consume 1.5 million barrels of oil annually. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that each day, more than 60 million plastic bottles are incinerated or tossed in landfills so if you do opt to trust bottled water…please recycle and remember to take the cap off.

Home based combination carbon reverse osmosis systems are also inefficient but if you’re pregnant, breast feeding, mixing powdered infant formula or cereal and know your water is contaminated you should consider purchasing a home filtration system just be sure it removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Consumer Reports recommends:

Aqua Pure by Cuno, AP-DWS1000

Kenmore (Sears) 34551

In addition you can compare ten different filter options at:

Water Filter Comparisons
The Green Guide

What can you do to stop making the problem worse?

  • Stop taking drugs…and if you absolutely have to, metabolize them for Pete’s sake.
  • Use all antibiotics and medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Buy only as much as can reasonably be used before the expiration date.
  • Whenever possible, take your unused pharmaceuticals to a pharmaceutical collection program or event.
  • If a drug collection program does not exist in your area, encourage your health care provider, local governments and local law enforcement to develop one.
  • Keep waste pharmaceuticals in their original containers with their labels and put them in a second container or small plastic bag and hide them in your trash. (Remove, or conceal with marker, any patient information if you have privacy concerns.)
  • Render pills unattractive to children and thieves by dissolving them in a small amount of water or alcohol, or by grinding them up and mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  • Do not dispose of pharmaceuticals down a drain or toilet.
  • Do not burn household waste containing pharmaceuticals.

What is the Government doing about the problem?

The day after the report was released to the public, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Minority ranking member of the US Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works wrote a letter to Stephen Johnson the Administrator of the EPA calling for assurances to the public to rebuild consumer confidence and the establishment of a working group to “establish reasonable and workable measures to reduce public health risk from pharmaceutical disposal into water supplies.

On April 4th, Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water sent a response where he assured the Senator that the EPA along with other Federal agencies are actively looking into “the emergence of pharmaceuticals and other personal care products that are detected in our waters”. He also explained that the current body of evidence does not justify a movement that would “require monitoring and/ or treatment that carry significant cost, particularly when the Agency must carry out programs for contaminants with known risks.” (read we have not figured out a way to monetize this effort, when we do, we’ll get back to you.)

Then on April 15th, Alan Goldhammer, PhD, the Deputy Vice President for Regulatory Affairs for the pharmaceutical trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) provided a statement to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality. In it he places the blame on the highly sensitive detection tools versus the vast quantities of pharmaceuticals his industry provides. However, in his statement he dos make an interesting point in that he argues that “dietary exposure to hormones such as the estrogen that naturally occurs in milk and soy products is much higher than exposure to residues of any estrogen-like pharmaceutical in water.” Not sure if it is comforting or not but an interesting point none the less.

So that is the state of affairs. It seems to me unlikely that the government will push much harder on this although in an April 18th press release, it should be noted that New York State legislators are pressing pharmaceutical companies to take a more active role in helping consumer dispose of pharmaceuticals by paying for their own collection programs. Perhaps they’ll get to this once they’ve finished pulling the BPA bottles from the shelves.

1 comment:

bha said...

Wish I had time to delve deeper into this. Great post though, I have to wonder how strong the effects would be. Maybe it is worth getting a filter of some kind.