The chemicals come from places like city rubbish dumps and industrial zones where spills seep into the ground or the local drains and, eventually, find their way down into the aquifers or water catchments areas that supply the city. Ralph Nader's organization recently used freedom of information legislation to force water officials nationwide to admit they had recorded more than 2000 different toxic chemicals in their own drinking water.
Pharmaceutical drugs get into the same places because when we take our heart pills, or pain medication, or hormone therapy -- any pills, in fact -- our bodies only absorb part of them. The rest is eliminated next time we use the toilet. They slip into the community's sewage treatment plants, and out into the rivers. In small towns in farming areas, pharmaceuticals come from farm run-off and animal excrement after vets give medication to livestock. We're all affected.
Eventually some of these chemicals and pharmaceuticals are drawn up into the drinking water system our towns and cities use. Alarmingly, this equipment cannot remove chemicals or pharmaceutical compounds with a smaller molecular size than water. You can remove them with special drinking water systems in your home, but municipal officials usually just pour in chlorine and hope this kills the nasties.
This does not work well. For instance, take the situation in Philadelphia, where officials discovered over 50 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in the city's treated drinking water. That situation occurs in many other US cities.
Officials usually shrug it off, saying there are no federal government standards for chemicals in water -- which suggests the central government is not concerned and so they need not worry either. And anyway, the chemicals and pharmaceuticals that get recycled as far as your tap are present in only parts per billion, they say.
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