If you drink water from the tap at home chances are you’ve considered testing your water at one time or another. You may have even followed through with it. But even the more sophisticated water testing techniques can miss traces of some water contaminants. Pharmaceutical ingredients in particular won’t show up on the list of things that many testing methods check for.
Drinking water can have many contaminants in it and unfortunately in many parts of the U.S. natural water resources that once were pristine are unsafe to use for household or agricultural purposes without significant cleaning. In a 2004 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Congress, 64% of the acres of lakes assessed by state agencies were deemed unsafe even for swimming or fishing. To qualify this the report also states that less than 30% of the U.S. waters were assessed for the purposes of that particular report. Still wherever you look these days there is growing evidence that the impact modern, industrialized, centralized populations overwhelm the natural abilities of water to shed pollutants. And that’s just the pollutants that are being measured. When you talk in terms of active ingredients in U.S. prescription drugs the game changes. Now you are talking about trace amounts of substances that, given enough accumulation in the human body, can cause very serious physical and mental reactions.
The fact that the active ingredients in common over the counter and prescription medications do not all break down or change their chemical composition as they pass through the body has been widely recognized for many years but the studies of effects of ingestion of trace amounts of residual, active chemical agents such as these are still fairly new. A 2002 report from the U.S. Geological Survey identified the most common pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) present in trace amounts. These were found in 139 selected at-risk bodies of water in 30 states. The list included nonprescription drugs, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and prescription drugs among others.
The obvious desire of anyone who uses tap water to prepare food or for drinking is to make sure it is safe. How safe becomes the question though in terms of the length one goes to in order to achieve the maximum possible purification of water from wells or city supplies. The best forms of purification in terms of removing PPCPs though are likely cost-prohibitive or materially impractical for home uses. Nano-filtration, long contact with active carbon filters, ozonation, distillation, and other methods involve equipment that is more than impractical for many home owners but these methods commercially can be very practical if you purchase water from a retail outlet or water supplier.
The complexities of judging what is safe and what is not with foods and water are only growing. The more we do to the natural environment, both directly and indirectly, the more trouble we seem to deal with later. The issue of PPCPs in drinking water is a twofold problem if you look at it that way. Getting safe water for household use is one side of the issue but the other is certain to be the overuse of many chemicals that are unlikely or impossible to break down as they pass through human or animal bodies. For those whose primary goal is to limit exposure to possibly harmful contaminants in water one thing is certain. Until homes come equipped with highly sophisticated filtration systems buying water is probably the safest route to go.