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Traces of 6 Medications Found in DC Drinking Water

posted 12:22 PM EST, Mon March 10, 2008
Traces of 6 Medications Found in DC Drinking Water © Photo: Spyder329

DC residents are taking more medicine than they think they are.

One million unwitting Washington DC residents are taking a mixed cocktail of medications – delivered daily through municipal drinking water.

Medications found in DC tap water include: caffeine, ibuprofen and Aleve, as well as lesser known drugs such as an anti seizure medication, carbamazepine; an antibiotic for both humans and animals, sulfamethoxazole and monensin another antibiotic used in livestock. Drugs consumed and passed out of the body into wastewater streams, later reabsorbed into water treatment plants unable to remove the trace quantities of these drugs, and passed through as drinking water to city residents.

Most US water purification facilities share this inability to remove medication metabolites from drinking water, although DC water treatment experts report that the dosages, in the parts per trillion, expose humans to no real risk.

Others disagree and speculate that constant exposure to medicines through drinking water may cause long term health deficits or hormonal abnormalities during adolescence. Others warn of the possible synergistic effects of a long and low exposure to medications. No one can say with certainty whether or not these trace quantities pose a threat, but the Environmental Protection Agency is worried, and is taking a close look at the influence these medications might have on public safety.

Most US water treatment plants, including the Washington Aqueduct, use chlorine as a primary means of sanitizing water for drinking – a methodology that may need changing in response to emerging threats to our potable water. Thomas P. Jacobus, GM of the Washington Aqueduct, says, "If we can't get them out, we have to find a way to neutralize them if we find there's a health effect from them." Ozone treatment may be a more effective way to treat the water, as although chlorine treatment does neutralize biological elements, it has little effect on drug remnants.

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