By Barbara Kessler

In case you missed the story about how Americans are getting an inadvertent dosing of pharmaceuticals in their drinking water, check out the original AP investigation that ran Sunday. The probe found traces of antibiotics, heart medications, mood drugs, anti-convulsants and sex hormones in water supplies across the nation, from New York to Southern California.

Some of the findings:

In Philadelphia, officials said testing found 56 pharmaceuticals in treated drinking water, including medications for pain, cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. In Southern California, anti-epileptic and and anti-anxiety medications were found in treated drinking water. Tests of water in Washington D.C., Tucson and Northern New Jersey also turned up a variety of drugs.

The drugs were found in tiny amounts, and scientists do not yet know what effects they’ll have on human health but have recorded dangerous effects on human cells and fish, enough that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking it “very seriously,’’ according to an agency water administrator.

The reporters of the investigation contacted 62 major water providers. Of those, 34 have not tested their water for pharmaceuticals. Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque, Austin, Texas; Virginia Beach, Va., said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, said traces of drugs had been detected in the drinking water, but cited security reasons for not revealing it.

How do the drugs get into the water? They are not completely metabolized in the human body and unused containers may also be flushed into the water system. The problem is worldwide, according to the AP story, affecting waterways in Asia, Europe, Canada and Australia. The problem has also been documented by other agencies and researchers looking at this issue in recent years; for more on that see the New York Times story “Drugs Are In The Water, Does It Matter?” from last April

Some drugs, like anti-cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water treatment processes. The reverse osmosis that removes virtually all pharmaceutical contamination is very expensive and wastes water.

Another problem that’s not a small issue in industrialized nations: Feedlots with cattle treated with steroids (to add bulk), a common practice, show heavily contaminated waters downstream, according to the AP story.

Pharmaceutical spokespersons told the investigators that there was “little or no risk” to human health from drugs in water supplies.

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