We’ve written before about how prescription drugs aregetting into water supplies. It’s recently been discoveredthat water in London is tainted with Prozac. How well do ourwater treatment plants get rid of these drugs?

Wastewater treatment plants that use a combination ofpurifying techniques followed by reverse osmosis, wherewater is forced through a barrier that only water can passthrough, do a good job of removing chemicals. But old-styletreatment plants do not remove prescription drugs from thewater we drink.

Environmental chemist Joel Pedersen says, “One concern aboutwater that comes from water-reclamation plants is that drugsand hormones in this water aren’t removed during thetreatment process.” These drugs are excreted from the bodyand can be found in wastewater. Although in the U.S. thiswater isn’t recycled for drinking, it’s often used forirrigation, which means it gets into groundwater andeventually makes it way into rivers and wells and into ourdrinking water. It affects marine life as well, sinceestrogen from hormone replacement therapy is feminizing fish.

Pedersen tested the water from three California treatmentplants, two of which produced recycled water used torecharge groundwater. He looked for 19 contaminants,including ibuprofen, caffeine, testosterone, and drugs thatlower cholesterol and inhibit seizures, and found that onlywater-reclamation plants using reverse osmosis remove mostprescription drugs.

Pedersen says, “Conventional wastewater treatment processesdon’t eliminate pharmaceuticals and hormones as effectively,resulting in the release of low levels of these compoundsinto the environment. The more advanced processes, on theother hand, do a pretty good job at removing compounds.”

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