Remember Back in the Old America, When It Was Just Syringes and Shit Like that in the Water Supply?

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I am laughing on the inside, partly because I am an Italian-American actor

The AP reports that your drinking water may contain "antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones" from prescription drugs. I was holding out for higher-than-trace levels of Oxycontin and Darvocet, but no such luck:

-Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

-Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

-Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

-A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

-The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

-Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The drugs, which were found everywhere tests were made, get in the water from many sources, but especially people's waste, apparently. Though wastewater is cleaned and treated, some of this special sort of runoff still ends up back in the drinking supply.

In such tiny amounts that there's no effect on anything but, as one scientist noted, "We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good."

Maybye, but it might not be bad, either, though it is all a little freaky, to be sure.

Whole story here.

The horri-fun-ible 1968 movie, Wild in the Streets, famously featured wild hippie kids dumping LSD in the water supply (a young Richard Pryor actually did the tipping), which sounds way more fun than sucking up even a micronanogram of someone's post-sewage-treatment restless leg syndrome drug.

That crying Indian standing in the garbage dump? Maybe he just didn't drink enough Prozac-laced water that day?

Seems the right time to say that real winners may or may not do drugs (actual results will vary).

But they definitely subscribe to the print edition of reason, the nation's only mag of "Free Minds and Free Markets." It's just $19.97 a year for more kicks–and less than half as many cramps!–than you can find in a gallon of Philadelphia drinking water.

NEXT: Disenfranchising Michigan and Florida?

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  1. Did anyone else notice these stories, unlike this blog, didn’t mention *illegal* drugs which would presumably also be present in detectable quantities??
    JMR

  2. Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water…

    Philadelphia is dirty? No, you can’t be serious.

    /sarcasm

    Non-story, nothing to see here, folks…

  3. I keep thinking about the “squares” who were afraid that the hippies were going to dose the water supply with LSD.

  4. Nick,

    Best. Post. Ever.

  5. A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco’s drinking water.

    …of course.

  6. So, I’ll build a water evaporation device, ingest the solid residue left behind and I’ll be the healthiest (Litpitor), happiest (anti-depressants) and most well rested (Ambien) man alive!

    Right?

  7. im sure it could be found that there are equal parts heavy metals and inerts. I can’t wait for the snark to begin in earnest.

    Episiarch has thrown down the gauntlet. I await the first challenger.

  8. sex hormones in water?

    go to a bar: “baby, can i buy you a tap water?”

    it’ll work every time.

  9. I’ll be the healthiest…happiest…and most well rested man alive!

    You forgot the 4-hour boner!

  10. Some average people[or health fanatics] will know doubt go crazy over this news.Many people fail to understand that we can test to such a small amount we find traces of chemicals that were always present.People expect ‘pure water’ out of the tap.This is not realistic.They should worry more how they handle food at home.

  11. Did anyone else notice these stories, unlike this blog, didn’t mention *illegal* drugs which would presumably also be present in detectable quantities??

    There were stories in the last year that covered the detection of controlled substances in waste water. However, those stories did not follow through to treated drinking water.

  12. The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

    The “politician six”:

    1. Viagra
    2. Rohypnol
    3. Viagra
    4. Oxycontin
    5. Valium
    6. Viagra

  13. Sounds like a whole lot of people are getting free health care to me. Up yours, Castro!

  14. The buzz on microconstituents (as they are often called) has been common knowledge in the water industry for quite some time. The research not mentioned in the current news coverage is that researchers have gone to supposedly “pristine” locations far away from civilization and found microconstituents like hormones, caffiene, DEET, pesticides, acetaminopen, etc. One of the issues is that detection technology is getting better all the time. The levels we’re talking about are generally .001 to .0001 parts per million.

    It is possible to remove microconstituents from drinking water; it’s just a matter of cost. And since it will fall to the federal government where cost is never an issue, I would expect regulations in five years that force local utilities to spend billions of dollars on upgrades.

    The indian is not crying because of the pollution. No, he just saw how much the federal government is going to spend cleaning the river.

  15. Caffeine in the drinking water? Ah, so I can stick it to Starbucks by drinking water instead of buying their stuff!

  16. Was my DNA detected? I took a shower and …..

  17. considering that some drinking water (like that in coastal Florida) has tasteable amounts of elemental sulfur in it, I’m willing to put up with .5 ppm of Scope mouthwash and .05 ppm of advil to allieviate the bad taste and associated nausea induced by it.

  18. You could go back to 2004 when it finally came out that DC, Falls Church, VA and other government water authorities had extremely high lead levels in the state supplied water.

    DC had actually threatened to fire the water authority scientist who wanted to warn the public.

    Meanwhile cities like DC build new baseball stadiums and convention centers while not replacing lead water pipes or repairing collapsing bridges.

    Central planning at work.

    We must privatize water now before we are all poisoned for good.

  19. The article states the amounts were pp billion or trillion.I read once that 1 ppb is like 1 jigger of vermouth in 3 railroad cars of gin.Very dry martini.

  20. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these concentrations so low as to be well below the minimimum threshold required to actually have a therapeutic effect?

    In other words, would such trace amounts actually have an effect if we drink the water? The authors’ primary claim seemed to be that low levels + years of exposure could be harmful. But a few parts per million seems a little low to have such an effect.

  21. How much flouride did they detect?

  22. It is possible to remove microconstituents from drinking water; it’s just a matter of cost. And since it will fall to the federal government where cost is never an issue, I would expect regulations in five years that force local utilities to spend billions of dollars on upgrades.

    Jose-Trying to remember back about 17 years (WW treatment) and 21 yrs (Chemistry)…Carbon filtering? I wonder how many people are going to have a mental seizure, since trace elements from a Nalgene bottle causes them substantial stress.

    Personally, I’m waiting for PUR or someone to start touting their filtration system as a whole house solution. I know British Berkefeld touts theirs for MBTE removal. They work pretty well, used them in Haiti when I was down there, and that water can make ANYTHING in the USA look good.

    We must privatize water now before we are all poisoned for good.

    Bruce-DC did that a few years ago, and WASA is the result. The only thing that came of it is that you now lose the ability to call the Mayor’s hotline to pressure them, they’re even MORE nonresponsive than the DC Govt, though it’s surprising that’s even possible. It’s still fed by the Corps of Engineers, so there is some control there, but beyond that, just shrug and declare defeat if you’re trying to deal with them. It’s incredibly frustrating. The problem is not privatization, it’s lack of competition. Competition is difficult, especially in cleanliness, as a lot of stuff is introduced in the distribution system rather than treatment.

    Queue joe to give us some reason it’s a racist plot to adversely affect black people or something.

  23. Xanotab may decrease your sex drive.

  24. I am skeptical of claims involving harm from exposure to really tiny amounts, but if we’re talking about cumulative exposure we can’t just dismiss it out of hand either. Some substances accumulate in the body rather than cycling through, and for those substances it’s possible that cumulative exposure to trace amounts would indeed have an effect.

  25. It will only affect us at this point if the homeopathic practitioners are correct (they aren’t).

    The danger is if the concentrations increase in the environment, or if the chemicals begin to be stored and built up in the human body for some reason.

    “There’s no ‘i’ in Teamosil, at least not where you’d think…”

  26. thoreau,

    If pharmaceuticals were to accumulate in the body, then the massive doses taken to treat disease would have lingering side effects. I am not buying this.

    Yes, it is possible that someone somewhere might suffer a noticeably shorteneld life span as a result of this. However, the millions of dollars required to mitigate this would probably save more lives if devoted to highway improvements.

    This article strikes me as yellow journalism with some lab work.

  27. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids!

  28. thoreau,true some do accumulate,but,the substances listed do not.These drugs are taken for a period of time to achieve the desired effect.In time the body filters them out.Drug test bear this out.Your mostly talking heavy metals.

  29. Cue some idiot stand-up comedian or talk radio host saying a matter-a-factly “that’s why people are acting so crazy these days!”

  30. If you are concerned, you could possibly remove them from your water using reverse osmosis, or maybe carbon filtration? I’m not a chemist, anyone know.

  31. The law of unintended consequences at work. Small baggies are banned; homeless people are consequently forced to dump their subsidized prescriptions into the storm drains in order to have small containers for their rock. The water supply is contaminated.

  32. OK, fair point, I guess it is mostly heavy metals, not organics, that build up.

    Still, Thoreau’s Law of the Internet says that if I declare that something NEVER happens (e.g. an organic substance accumulating in the body rather than being cleared) then somebody will immediately show up with an exception. Hence the “mostly” inserted in the first sentence of this post.

  33. When detection technology improves, it is not unreasonable to test water and ask, “Do these microconstituents present any material health risk”? The problem now is we know the microconstituents exist, but we have very little epidemiological data on exposure to trace substances. And Thoreau is correct. Some substances pass through the human body; others linger. Please remember that we’re not just talking about drugs. We’re talking about a rather amazing range of substances.

    As noted, privitization only works where there are market incentives such as profit and competition. In my experience, water and waste water utilities are reasonably effective. Perhaps this is because in most community, the people who run the water system drink the water. So do their friends and families… a “nonmarket incentive,” if you will.

  34. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these concentrations so low as to be well below the minimimum threshold required to actually have a therapeutic effect?”

    Not if you believe in homeopathic remedies.

  35. I’ll be the healthiest…happiest…and most well rested man alive!

    You forgot the 4-hour boner!

    Which may help with the happy part, but I doubt it will help the rested portion.

  36. On trace amounts of drugs accumulating in the body over time… let’s say… 3 Liters water/day (that’s 8 X 12 oz) X 365.25 days/year X 100 years X 1 ppb = ~ 0.1 mg dose over a lifetime.

    Ok, so I’ve exaggerated the numbers and we get a lifetime dose that is so low that even getting it all at once should do nothing at all to anyone. Whew!

  37. You forgot the 4-hour boner!

    He said “happiest”.

    Parts per trillion, people. Parts per trillion. I, for one, have other things to worry about.

    Although I am curious about how its even possible for this stuff to show up in deep aquifers. Makes me wonder about the testing methodology.

  38. Ok, so I forgot to carry the 0’s… that’s ~0.1 g/lifetime. Well, maybe that’s something?

  39. This is all distracting us from the real problem; who’s going to stop The Joker from dumping his Joker Venom into the water supply?

  40. who’s going to stop The Joker from dumping his Joker Venom into the water supply

    Spider-Man?

    OH NOES DC-MARVEL PARADOX

  41. We are among a Crisis of Infinite Water Treatment Plants.

  42. Remember this oldy-but-goody?
    Alar is killing your children!

    ——–

    Makes me wonder about the testing methodology.

    Tougher lab mice will make the world a safer place.

  43. You could go back to 2004 when it finally came out that DC, Falls Church, VA and other government water authorities had extremely high lead levels in the state supplied water.

    IIANM the lead contamination in DC was chiefly from the lead solder and even lead pipes (they were that old) old plumbing systems and not due to anything the actual utility was doing.

    Lead pipe was still being used into the 30s and lead solder on copper pipe until the 70s.

  44. It has been suggested that sex hormones in the water supply may contribute the increasingly early onset of puberty amongst girls. Long term exposure is not the only concern.

  45. I always wonder why we expect water to be “pure” when so little else in nature is.

    The stuff around here comes out of the ground about 10% limestone.

  46. I read that article this morning. I thought this part was best (emphasis added):

    “They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.”

    How much does a contaminant need to be concentrated before it’s a trace amount?

  47. It has been suggested that sex hormones in the water supply may contribute the increasingly early onset of puberty amongst girls.

    I am going to suggest that that will make me less of a dirty old man when I (inadvertantly, of course) check out a 16-year old hottie, whom I thought was an 20-year old hottie from a distance.

  48. As noted, privitization only works where there are market incentives such as profit and competition. In my experience, water and waste water utilities are reasonably effective. Perhaps this is because in most community, the people who run the water system drink the water. So do their friends and families… a “nonmarket incentive,” if you will.

    And the systems were small enough for an individual to care.

    I am going to suggest that that will make me less of a dirty old man when I (inadvertantly, of course) check out a 16-year old hottie, whom I thought was an 20-year old hottie from a distance.

    Speaking as a father who has a daughter in that age group…get some glasses 😉

  49. I am going to suggest that that will make me less of a dirty old man when I (inadvertantly, of course) check out a 16-year old hottie, . . .

    You meant 12-year old . . .

  50. Speaking as a father who has a daughter in that age group…get some glasses 😉

    Mine will be there soon enough and she’s going to be a whole lot o’ trouble.

  51. First thing I thought of was that homeopaths must be thrilled, and I see that other folks who read things earlier than I thought of the homeopaths as well, so move along, please, as it appears that all I have to offer is a run-on sentence that contributes nothing substantial to the conversation, but, of course, that’s nothing new, is it?

  52. Isn’t it strange what people worry about today?My mother whines about hormones in milk and how it’s not as good now.She forgets that when she grew up,milk was the #1 cause of food born illness.Thousands died every year.Bath tub gin was another culprit.It was the ‘crack cocaine’ of it’s day.

  53. Paging Erin Brockovich.

  54. They should do an anti-global warming ad with a crying Eskimo.

  55. That is a pretty good album Nick, and this maybe the best track, though track two sounds better each time I listen. The Clash references always go past me though.

  56. Mine will be there soon enough and she’s going to be a whole lot o’ trouble.

    Just wait until you get the “Who the hell is this guy??” reaction about someone that takes over your body and mind like an alien and makes you say strange stuff from the 1950’s or something. I had one of them take over the other night when the daughter, in a play, comes out and some guys in the audience start catcalls and the like.

    Anyway, sucks getting older, back to your originally scheduled programming.

  57. This was immortalized in song by the Four Bitching Babes.
    http://www.lyricsdownload.com/four-bitchin-babes-viagra-in-the-waters-lyrics.html

    Wow, I actually have that song on my iPod

  58. Starting today I’m dumping Viagra down the sink. Y’all can thank me later.

  59. Just wait until you get the “Who the hell is this guy??” reaction about someone that takes over your body and mind like an alien and makes you say strange stuff from the 1950’s or something.

    LOL. I’m already browsing the shotgun section at Wal-Mart. I do know, from personal experience, that teenage boys understand one thing and one thing only: fear. Especially that of large and armed fathers.

    Tho’ I gotta tell ya, I think they’ll be more afraid of her than me, gun or no. I pre-emptively pity those boys. They don’t stand a chance.

  60. Especially that of large and armed fathers.

    I actually picked up a girl for a date in high school once, and met her father cleaning a shotgun on the coffee table.

    This was in Texas, so I really didn’t think anything of it. I assumed all my dates had armed backup.

  61. You know, those drugs in the water are coming from shit and piss of the people who take the drugs. At some point, people will figure out there are billions of times more shit and piss than drugs. If the sewage treatment can’t take all the drugs out of the water, how much shit and piss can it take out?… Euuwwwww!!!

  62. I actually picked up a girl for a date in high school once, and met her father cleaning a shotgun on the coffee table.

    A friend of mine made a big point of cleaning his pistol when a kid came to pick up his daughter (actually, step) for her first date.

    He said the kid was really polite, all “yes sir, no sir” and stuff.

  63. Whats the big surprise here exactly that there are chemicals in the water?

    Sure they are small amounts. But then again according to the EPA your drinking water has a legally allowable amount of Cyanide twice the amount required to fail a drug test for pot.

    Thats right the federal government thinks 2 times the level of a deadly chemical in your water is ok.

    But lord forbid you have 1/2 that same amount of inert metabolites from THC in your own urine.

    Make what you will of it all, I can’t make any sense ofit except the usual. Shut up and do what we tell ya government BS.

  64. If the sewage treatment can’t take all the drugs out of the water, how much shit and piss can it take out?… Euuwwwww!!!

    Actually, sewage treatment does’t take any of the shit and piss.

    Using various digestion methods the suspended constituents sort of decay and harmful bacteria are consumed by beneficial ones. Aeration, chlorination and filtration take care of the rest.

    Getting dissolved chemicals out is another matter entirely.

    Believe me, with potable water being probably the single most pressing problem anywher in the world the recycling of tertiary treated water into the water supply will come soon than later in many places. They’re already ding it in Australia, IIANM. And they’re already using treated effluent for irrigation in Florida.

    Just dumping treated effluent into water bodies is no longer satisfactory in many cases. There are places in Florida have large fields over which it is sprayed to ensure aquifer recharge, rather than just dumping it into rivers where it is washed out to sea.

  65. Correction:

    “They’re already d[o]ing it in Australia, IIANM.”

    And actually what I meant was tat I read an article where it had been proposed, I’m not sure if it’s actually been put in place yet.

    Naturally there’s a lot of resistance. After all, as daniel k points out at 1:28pm there’s a huge IIICKKK!!!! factor present here.

  66. My lot won’t support a leach field, so I have a mechanically aerated septic system. The installer said I could drink the outflow if I wanted.

    Not ready to take him up on that offer, but I believe him.

  67. The AP reports that your drinking water may contain “antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones”

    A ha!

    That explains why I’ve been so germ free, the epilepsy has been in remission, my bad temper has gone totally chill, and I’ve been sporting a constant hard-on for the last few years. Oh, and my tits have been swelling up.

    Thanks, public water supply!

  68. It has been suggested that sex hormones in the water supply may contribute the increasingly early onset of puberty amongst girls.

    Early when and according to whom? 13 year olds were having babies a long time ago, Puritanism be damned.

  69. Potable water is an ugly “tragedy of the commons” problem that is unfolding all over the world. “Toilet to tap” is closer than you might imagine, “ick” factor or not. It’s mostly a matter of energy and expense to clean post-discharge water to drinking water standards.

    The standard of the safe drinking water act is that the MCL (maximum contaminant level) is calculated for the LIFETIME exposure of 70kg person who consume 2L of water per day. The issue with microconstituents is that there are not currently MCLs… although I expect you can see them under “coming attractions.”

    I’m sure the news will be used to sell all sorts of water purification equipment (that if not perfectly maintained makes water quality worse) and to pass a host of new regulations and raise the cost of water higher. Unfortunately, the American public is poorly equipped to have an intelligent conversation about risk.

  70. Interesting to me that I see this a few days after the study saying that bottled water is no better than tap water. just a lot more expensive.

  71. The truth is ALL water has been recycled since the dawn of time.Water in the US has never been safer.Go back 50-80 years and check out the numbers for water born disease.It’s the same water,just safer.

  72. The truth is ALL water has been recycled since the dawn of time.

    This is true. But it has never been so directly recycled as to be taken directly from the treatment plant and put into the potable water supply (except on the Space Station).

    I remember back in the sixties one of the oil companies did a big refit of one of their refineries in Canada. They were so proud of their wastewater treatment plant (industrial, mind you) that the CEO made a big deal of drinking a big glassfull of the effluent. However noone suggested that it be immediately reused. No, it was pumped into Lake Ontario where at least some of it was most certainly picked up by the intake pipes of Toronto or anyone of dozens of cities on both sides of the lake.

    My point is that in the, I think near, future we will see more direct recycling of drinking water as depletion of aquifers and the like become more of an issue.

  73. Interesting to me that I see this a few days after the study saying that bottled water is no better than tap water. just a lot more expensive.

    Penn & Teller’s BULLSHIT episode on bottled water has to be one of the funniest things going.

  74. First para of previous post was a quote from brotherben | March 10, 2008, 4:42pm.

  75. Until recently most water supplies were also open sewers.The Thames,Seine, and on and on.People use the for water and waste filtered in.People dug wells but the to became tainted at times.Many arid countries take their water from the ocean and desalinate it and salt water is very toxic.All water has been and will be again waste water.

  76. “Interesting to me that I see this a few days after the study saying that bottled water is no better than tap water. just a lot more expensive.”

    20-30 years ago, who would’ve guessed that someone could sell bottled tap water for an enormous profit?

  77. If it hasn’t been mentioned already….
    what do homeopaths think of this?

  78. fwiw, there was a spot on the tv the other day that said that several major canadian coastal cities still pump their untreated sewage directly into the ocean. Halifax being one of them. Right into the bay.

  79. siv, they are more concerned with their right to get married.

  80. I see that Sen Boxer and others have called for an investigation into this, so whoever said something upthread about new regulations etc. will probably be proven correct.

  81. “They’re already doing it in Australia, IIANM.”

    And actually what I meant was tat I read an article where it had been proposed, I’m not sure if it’s actually been put in place yet.[/i]

    They were planning to do it in Queensland, which was in severe drought. There was an outcry amongst people who don’t want to drink shit and piss and don’t want to think about the fact that they essentially already do so. In a rare piece of (forced) political honesty, the premier (equivalent to governor) said “Too bad, there aren’t any other options, suck it down”. However, Queensland is now in flood, so I’m not sure if the plans have been shelved. It’s been floated as an idea elsewhere in Australia, but since it is so politically unsaleable we will probably end up with desalinization plants instead.

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