In recent months, scientists and researchers have discovered that our drinking water contains a large range of pharmaceuticals. These medications include antibiotics, mood stabilizers, and anti-convulsants, just to name a few of the more dangerous ones.

Experts estimate that these medications appear in the drinking water of approximately 41 million Americans today. While the concentrations of these medications is fairly small, even small doses can prove to be dangerous, especially when consumed over an extended time period.

Scientists are most worried about the presence of both prescription and over-the-counter medications in the drinking water and its effect on long-term health. This concern is especially warranted since utility companies do not disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings to the public.

For anyone who wonders how these medications enter the water supply, the drugs usually enter via two main ways. Medications that people take often pass unabsorbed through their bodies and enter the wastewater stream. After being recycled, the water re-enters lakes and rivers so it can be available to consumers. Also, many people will dispose of their medications by washing them down the sink or flushing it down the toilet, where it goes through the same process and has the opportunity to re-enter the drinking water supply.

There are multiple implications of using this contaminated water for drinking and washing. In a recent laboratory study using collected water that contained pharmaceuticals, researchers found that the water affected kidney cells, blood cells, and breast cancer cells. The combined medications increased the rate of the cancerous cell growth and decreased the growth and proliferation of kidney cells. The blood cells were also negatively affected and the medication caused an inflammatory response in normal human blood cells. These effects are most obvious when contaminated water is ingested, but can also be seen through contact through with the skin.

Scientists are especially concerned about the effect of this water on specific populations. Women who are pregnant, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems will be especially susceptible to water containing pharmaceuticals. Certain drug classes found in the water including chemotherapy medications, hormones, and depression medications can have a negative effect and also interact with any medications that these individuals may be currently taking.

Another area of concern is the level of antibiotics in the water supply. Antibiotics can allow human germs to change and mutate into more dangerous forms, creating antibiotic-resistant strains of certain diseases, and increasing the risk of infection and illness in the entire population. Currently, there have been no long-term studies on the effects of these medications being in the water supply, but laboratory studies have shown the potential for severe illness, development of cancer, and death due to these medications.

In the coming months and years, more education on the effects of these medications should be widely released to the public. Additionally, education on the proper way to get rid of unwanted medications should be provided. Finally, better water filtration systems may be the best way to create a clean and healthy drinking water supply and put a little more control back into the hands of average consumer.