Pharmaceuticals in the Groundwater
Do we know if pharmaceuticals are in our water?
Well, let’s start with what pharmaceuticals are:
- Prescription Drugs
- Over the Counter Medicines
- Veterinary Medicines
Although the buzz about these medicines being in our water may be getting louder these days, Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) has tested our drinking water sources for quite some time. Yes, a few pharmaceuticals, such as Ibuprofen, have been found in the drinking water at “trace amounts”. This amount is comparable to the amount of a grain of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Caffeine has also been detected, but the amount is also very insignificant.
Though the amount is small, we are still in the process of determining the effects of the pharmaceuticals on the wildlife and fish that use the waterways and whether these levels pose a threat to human health. Aquatic animals are sensitive to smaller levels of contamination, particularly in the development phase. There may be the risk of increased resistance to antibiotics in humans. Because there are so many different medications that come out every year there is no way to assess what the risks of long-term exposure to them would be. There is ongoing research to address these questions and future methods of removing the medicines from the water at our treatment plants. GCWW is proudly at the forefront of current water research and treatment. If you would like more information on what they do, you can log on to http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/gcww/.
How do the pharmaceuticals get into the water?
There are two major ways:
- Runoff into waterways from animal feedlots and land application of organic materials.
- Through wastewater plants. Pharmaceuticals enter the plants through: 1) excretion in human urine and feces, and 2) from flushing unwanted pills down the toilet.
Wastewater plants are designed to handle our waste products, but not the medicines or personal care products that are flushed down with it. They pass through the plants and back into our waterways. They may be taken in by our drinking water plants, which cannot completely eradicate them. Therefore, as water consumers it is important to be as aware as possible to what we are putting into our sewage systems.
What can you do?
- Don’t flush prescriptions or substances down the toilet!! Unless the bottle advises otherwise, you should put unused or expired prescriptions in the trash. It is best to take them out of the vials and mix them with another substance, such as coffee grinds, and to place them in an empty can or container.
- Look into programs that will take back unused drugs and dispose of them for you. Butle County Department of Environmental Services has a program from June to September that accepts hazardous wastes. If you miss that program, you can call Environmental Enterprises at (513) 541-1823 to drop off your unwanted medicines.
- Get rid of your unwanted medications. The date and site locator is now up and running on the DEA website, just click on the Collection Site Locator Tab and enter your zip code to find a location near you!
If you would like more information on pharmaceuticals or what has been found in the water, please follow these useful links:
A website devoted to information about substances in the water systems.
Butler County Department of Environmental Resources
American Water Works Association