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Drug Contamination in U.S. Tap Drinking Water

Published: 2014-05-13 - Updated: 2021-08-29
Author: Thomas C. Weiss | Contact: Disabled World (

Synopsis: Information regarding drugs and personal care products used in daily lives that are contaminating drinking water supplies. Researchers are just starting to analyze the effects of some of these drugs and chemicals in our drinking water which include - yet are not limited to, estrogens, cholesterol-lowering medications, as well as anticonvulsant medications. Drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs may also be ending up in the water that flows through water treatment plants, winding up flowing directly out of your tap water source.

Main Digest

In the United States of America, around 40+ million people are drinking drugs right from their tap water. We have a tendency in our society to take our drinking water for granted, assuming that water contamination will be taken care of by our local authorities. As a population, we need to change the way we think because budgets for water treatment are declining and the use of recycled water is becoming increasingly common. We cannot continue to think of water as a gift from nature that will always be there as needed. Instead, water is an industry and a commodity that needs our investment.


The drugs and personal care products that people use in their daily lives on a consistent basis are excreted from our bodies, or are washed off of us during our regular cleansing habits. We often times dump them down the sink as we wash out containers to recycle them. We have not yet counted the drugs in our drinking water supply that people intentionally flush down the toilet, or dump down the sink when we want to get rid of them.

All of this waste ends up as raw sewage that flows into sewage systems and into septic tanks. Yet where does it go from this point? While the waste flows through treatment plants, the municipal water processing systems that are used in nearly every town and city in the United States of America are not prepared to deal with the volume and types of environmental waste that people create each and every single day in this nation. The challenges are incredible.

A number of scientists view water management as a crucial issue and are starting to monitor the impact that pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCP's) in our water have on our health. PPCP's detected in drinking water are on the rise; an estimated increase from 2 billion to 3.9 billion yearly prescriptions between 1999 and 2009 in the United States alone have been suggested.

More than 40 Million Americans are Drinking Drugs from Their Tap Water

What exactly is in tap water these days? The Associated Press states there are around 40 million people in the United States alone who are drinking several unwanted things in their tap water. The list of things is stunning and found me wondering just who is asleep at the treatment plant. The items you might find in your tap water include:

Researchers are understandably concerned about the chemicals that are leaching from septic tanks, escaping almost entirely intact from sewage treatment plants and ending up in our tap water. We also need to take into consideration the increasingly high amount of chemical wastes that leach into streams downstream from farms in America. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, "With advances in technology that improved the ability to detect and quantify these chemicals, we can now begin to identify what effects, if any, these chemicals have on human and environmental health."

There have not been any conclusions drawn about the actual effects PPCP's have on either the environment or the health of people who consume tap water. Personally, the presence of some of the things listed above may explain certain behaviors on the parts of particular politicians, but it makes me wonder about the safety of average people in America. In the meantime, the EPA's strategy for dealing with PPCP's in the water people drink includes the following:

All of these efforts are just fine and wonderful, yet where are the efforts to remove these unwanted items from our water supply? One has to wonder about the effects these things have on people in regular life, as well as leaders in everything from industry to political office. If things such as sex hormones and hypnotics are in the water supplies of everyone from the person on the corner to people in high office, how well are they able to make decisions

Germany is taking the lead in regards to PPCP's in waste water monitoring. The studies they have conducted over the past decade have confirmed the presence of PPCP waste in both their treated and untreated sewage. PPCP's have also been found in surface water, aquifer groundwater and drinking water. According to a report at the American Chemical Society, water samples taken from 40 rivers and streams in Germany revealed more than 31 different types of chemicals.

The majority of the PPCP's found in both treated and untreated sewage are detected at concentrations that range from parts per trillion to parts per billion. While this may not seem to be a lot, it is significant because they accumulate in a person's body! Accumulation of these chemicals in a person's body creates a major issue if they are already taking similar drugs. Since the majority of drugs are not on the danger list of water contaminants, there is no requirement for water treatment authorities to list or even bother looking for them! The problem is not present only in the United States of America - the problem is a global one. Researchers in Canada are finding out they also experience PPCP's in their water supply.

How This Affects Your Health

Researchers are just starting to analyze the effects of some of these drugs and chemicals in our drinking water which include - yet are not limited to, estrogens, cholesterol-lowering medications, as well as anticonvulsant medications on fish in the Great Lakes. All 3 of these drugs may potentially interfere with the usual reproduction and development of fish living downstream from a common sewage treatment plant. It does not take a lot to affect wildlife in a bad way. Studies have shown that estrogen compounds; even exposure at parts per trillion, 'feminizes,' male fish and has the potential to disrupt the development of their circulatory systems, eyes, and urinary tract systems.

Researchers have also noted that while the number of peer-reviewed papers on the subject are limited, government agencies concerned with water quality in the United States and other professional organizations serving the water and waste water communities around the world are starting to acknowledge the impact that drugs and chemicals in our drinking water are having on the environment and people.

The long-term affect on people from what are commonly known as, 'sub-therapeutic,' doses of several drugs, as well as other substances that are not meant to be ingested, is something that remains to be seen. The issue is one that becomes large in areas where water is scarce because there will be more re-use of treated sewage water intended to meet drinking water needs. When this is the case, it increases the likelihood of exposing people to PPCP's that end up in drinking water and the bodies of people who are exposed to this type of water.

We are left to depend on collaboration between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA. The challenges might not be met anytime soon because the FDA usually does not address environmental concerns and the EPA usually does not deal with drug issues. What this means is we are essentially on our own to protect ourselves as best we can.

Something that has not been mentioned is how much of the street, i.e. illegal drugs used in the United States ends up in the water people drink. Drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs may also be ending up in the water that flows through water treatment plants, winding up flowing directly out of your tap water source. Chemicals used in industries throughout the nation also pollute the waters flowing through rivers in the United States, making me wonder just how much crud and other chemicals are truly in the water we drink each and every single day.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2014, May 13). Drug Contamination in U.S. Tap Drinking Water. Disabled World. Retrieved September 21, 2021 from