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Drugs in Drinking Water Raise Concerns

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Drug residues are turning up in drinking water supplies, raising concerns about the potential health consequences of such contamination.

Most drug residues end up in municipal water supplies through normal bodily functions.  But some end up there  because people often dispose of unused medications by flushing them down the toilet.  According to an article on Slate.com, most government organizations now recommend that you dispose of old medications in the trash, rather than the toilet. 

In 2007, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Health and Human Services issued the first set of federal guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs.  According to Slate.com, these guidelines recommend taking unused medications out of their original packaging, mixing them with other items in the trash that are “undesirable” (for instance, used cat litter), placing the concoction in a zip loc bag, and throwing it in the trash.

The Slate.com article does point out that there are a few drugs, such as certain narcotics, that the guidelines say should still be flushed.  A list of those medications can be found here.  Also, the guidelines aren’t binding, and state and local authorities may mandate different procedures.

Finally, the Slate.com report said consumers may want to utilize “take back” programs that are popping up now.  Generally, these programs involve turning in unused medications to a pharmacy or other organization for disposal.  Also, there may be opportunities to donate unused medications to charity, depending on state laws.

In 2008, the Associated Press published the results of its own five-month long investigation into drug residues in public water supplies.  The probe revealed that 46 million Americans were being exposed to pharmaceutical ingredients via drinking water.  The Associated Press also found that many y communities do not test for drugs in drinking water and those that do often fail to tell customers they have found medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones.  At that time, such drugs were found in drinking water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas.

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