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What's In Your Water?

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. . . . The presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.


. . . Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.


Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10% of the steroid passed right through the animals. Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream.


Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Federal and state inspectors test water purity by using regulations mostly set in the 1970s. Numerous chemicals have come on the scene since then, but regulators are not required to test for many of them. . . . Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, pointed out that scientists and regulators did not think years ago that the insecticide DDT was dangerous. She said that while government regulation requires water systems to be free of contaminants such as bacteria and mud, regulators are not staying up with the emergence of pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals that might end up in a glass of tap water.

"The EPA requires that drinking water plants test for about 100 chemicals, and that's a very short list of (all) chemicals that we know are out there that could be in water," she said.


#110 in a series for one photo a day for a year


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Taken on April 19, 2010