Trace Amount of Drugs in Water Alarms Philadelphia Residents
[Rachel's Introduction: Tests of Philadelphia's drinking water reveal the presence of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts. "Philadelphia had the largest number because we're looking for the largest number."]
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By Dan Geringer
Alarmed residents flooded the Philadelphia Water Department with calls yesterday after the Associated Press reported that traces of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts had been found in city drinking water - but department spokesman Ed Grusheski said there is nothing to worry about. (The 56 chemicals are listed below.)

"In order to get one child's dose of acetaminophen [Tylenol's active ingredient], you'd have to drink eight glasses of Philadelphia water a day for 11,000 years," Grusheski said.

"You'd have to drink 8 glasses of water a day for 800 years to get the amount of caffeine you'd get in one cup of coffee.

"I mean, these are truly trace amounts. Right now, our water is safe and healthy."

Grusheski explained the huge differences in test results between Philadelphia's 56 pharmaceutical traces, Washington, D.C.'s five and San Francisco's one.

The AP, he said, which reported traces of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water of 41 million Americans, relied on testing by the drinking-water providers, which ranged from no testing (New York City) to testing for a few pharmaceuticals to Philadelphia's most extensive testing.

"Philadelphia had the largest number because we're looking for the largest number of pharmaceuticals," Grusheski said.

"If you look for them in parts per billion, as some cities did, you don't see them all. We look at them in parts per trillion. So we found a lot more."

Grusheski said that unlike many European countries, which have "drug take-back" programs for unused pharmaceuticals, Americans tend to flush them.

"I'm at an age where I'm taking seven medications every morning," he said. "Maybe 20 percent of those pharmaceuticals are absorbed by my body. The rest goes through and is excreted.

"When my mother died, I was advised by the nurse to flush her pain medications down the toilet."

Trace elements of those medications will end up in the drinking water, he said, because wastewater plants treat water for harmful micro- organisms, not pharmaceutical traces, before returning it to rivers or lakes, where it eventually ends up flowing from the kitchen tap again.

Grusheski said that European countries have drug take-back programs that encourage people to return unused drugs rather them flush them back into the water system again.

"I don't think it's clear what the major source of this pharmaceutical material [in drinking water] might be," said Dr. Charles Haas, Drexel University professor of environmental engineering.

"Is it people taking drugs and excreting, or is it disposal of drugs into the water system by hospitals, nursing homes, prison pharmacies or university labs -- which are essentially uncontrolled environments?

"We really don't have a sense of whether there is a dominant player or not."

Either way, Haas said, "parts per billion or per trillion are very tiny quantities of this material, and there is zero evidence that these levels pose a human health risk."

Philadelphia, he said, gets its drinking water from two treatment plants on the Schuylkill and one on the Delaware River.

"These plants are designed to take out infectious microorganisms," not pharmaceutical traces.

"We've got one of the best water departments in the country," Haas said. "I drink their tap water. I've got three animals that drink their tap water. There is no need, based on this report, for people to start using bottled water.

"Besides," Haas said, "there are major labels of bottled water that use tap water. So if it was tested as carefully as Philadelphia drinking water, what would we find?"


From: North County Times (Escondido, Calif.) March 11, 2008

56 Drugs Measured in Philadelphia's drinking water

Tests of Philadelphia's drinking water reveal the presence of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts

By Jeff Donn, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- A total of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts have been detected in this city's drinking water, largely in tests conducted last year, according to the Philadelphia Water Department.

The list of drugs is the longest among 62 major water providers surveyed by the Associated Press. However, this city's water officials say they probably found more drugs simply because they did more testing. They say their water is safe to drink.


Sidebar: You may be able to learn something about drugs and other contaminats in your own local drinking water here.


Researchers found trace concentrations of drugs including antibiotics, pain relievers, heart and psychiatric drugs, and veterinary medicines. Here's the list of drugs and some of their uses:


Amoxicillin -- for pneumonia, stomach ulcers

Azithromycin -- for pneumonia, sexually transmitted diseases

Bacitracin -- prevents infection in cuts and burns

Chloramphenicol -- for serious infections when other antibiotics can't be used

Ciprofloxacin -- for anthrax, other infections

Doxycycline -- for pneumonia, Lyme disease, acne

Erythromycin -- for pneumonia, whooping cough, Legionnaires' disease

Lincomycin -- for strep, staph, other serious infections

Oxytetracycline -- for respiratory, urinary infections

Penicillin G -- for anthrax, other infections

Penicillin V -- for pneumonia, scarlet fever, infections of ear, skin, throat

Roxithromycin -- for respiratory, skin infections

Sulfadiazine -- for urinary infections, burns

Sulfamethizole -- for urinary infections

Sulfamethoxazole -- for traveler's diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary and ear infections

Tetracycline -- for pneumonia, acne, stomach ulcers, Lyme disease

Trimethoprim -- for urinary and ear infections, traveler's diarrhea, pneumonia


Acetaminophen -- soothes arthritis, aches, colds; reduces fever

Antipyrine -- for ear infections

Aspirin -- for minor aches, pain; lowers risk of heart attack and stroke

Diclofenac -- for arthritis, menstrual cramps, other pain

Ibuprofen -- for arthritis, aches, menstrual cramps; reduces fever

Naproxen -- for arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, aches; reduces fever

Prednisone -- for arthritis, allergic reactions, multiple sclerosis, some cancers


Atenolol -- for high blood pressure

Bezafibrate -- for cholesterol problems

Clofibric acid -- byproduct of various cholesterol medications

Diltiazem -- for high blood pressure, chest pain

Gemfibrozil -- regulates cholesterol

Simvastatin -- slows production of cholesterol


Carbamazepine -- for seizures, mood regulating

Diazepam -- for anxiety, seizures; eases alcohol withdrawal

Fluoxetine -- for depression; relieves premenstrual mood swings

Meprobamate -- for anxiety

Phenytoin -- controls epileptic seizures

Risperidone -- for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe behavior problems


Caffeine -- found in coffee; also used in pain relievers

Cotinine -- byproduct of nicotine; drug in tobacco, also used in products to help smokers quit

Iopromide -- given as contrast agent for medical imaging

Nicotine -- found in tobacco, also in medicinal products to help smokers quit

Paraxanthine -- a byproduct of caffeine

Theophylline -- for asthma, bronchitis and emphysema


Carbadox -- for control of dysentery, bacterial enteritis in pigs; promotes growth

Chlortetracycline -- for eye, joint, other animal ailments

Enrofloxacin -- for infections in farm animals and pets; treats wounds

Monensin -- for weight gain, prevention of severe diarrhea in farm animals

Narasin -- for severe diarrhea in farm animals

Oleandomycin -- for respiratory disease; promotes growth in farm animals

Salinomycin -- promotes growth in livestock

Sulfachloropyridazine -- for enteritis in farm animals

Sulfadimethoxine -- for severe diarrhea, fowl cholera, other conditions in farm animals

Sulfamerazine -- for a range of infections in cats, fowl

Sulfamethazine -- for bacterial diseases in farm animals; promotes growth

Sulfathiazole -- for diseases in aquarium fish

Tylosin -- promotes growth, treats infections in farm animals, including bees

Virginiamycin M1 -- prevents infection, promotes growth in farm animals

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