The Environmental Impact Of Pharmaceuticals In Our Water Is Your Tap Water Really Safe To Drink?

When you pour yourself a glass of water from the tap, you think it’s clean. But is it? There could be traces of pharmaceuticals in your drinking water and you wouldn’t know it.

pharmaceuticals in drinking water
Credit: Pixabay

Because modern water treatment centers can filter almost all toxins from our water, we think it’s safe. But since it doesn’t remove 100 percent, the concern grows for the presence of pharmaceuticals, which can affect your health and environment.

What Is Pharmaceutical Pollution?

Also called drug pollution, pharmaceutical pollution is pollution in water used in industry and environment that maintains the presence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs and medications.

Where It’s Coming From

Traces of pharmaceuticals and common drugs in our water aren’t new. For years researchers found traces of prescription and over-the-counter medications like antibiotics, painkillers and antidepressants in lakes and streams.

One study found even Lake Michigan’s high water volume couldn’t completely dilute the presence of chemicals.

These damaging pharmaceutical compounds mostly come from human or animal urine and waste or improper disposal.

Why It’s An Issue

Impacts on the Environment

Unable to detect some pharmaceutical chemicals and compounds, water filtration facilities can enable these pollutants to leach into our water. When pollutants get into our water, they affect the quality of our lakes, streams and rivers.

Pharmaceutical pollutants also find ways to wildlife. Fish and other aquatic wildlife remain at a high risk for biological imbalances and changes from pharmaceutical pollution. It may cause a wipeout of some species.

Impacts on Health

If we don’t take precaution, pharmaceutical pollution can also affect our health.

When we consume animals and products exposed to this pollution, we too ingest the pharmaceuticals. Though the dosage may fall at different levels, the compounding of chemicals in our drinking water over time can disrupt how our body works and functions on a daily basis. Water treatment facilities can remove around 95 to 98 percent of the pharmaceuticals found in our water, but the untreated three to five percent remains a mystery in terms of our health.

Our development and growth processes could change, resulting in diseases and other chronic health conditions. And, with increased exposure to certain medications like antibiotics, the bacteria killed by those medicines may become resistant, making them ineffective

Though research is inconclusive on this issue and research is still underway, many people want to know what we can do.

What You Can Do

Help stop pharmaceutical water pollution before it gets worse and keep our environment sustainable by minimizing your footprint with the following habits:

Don’t Flush

Prevent medications from ending up in our water by not flushing them down the toilet.

Find a Quality Filter

Owning a water filter designed to filter certain chemicals and toxins from your drinking water can decrease the chance of pharmaceuticals making their ways into your home. You can get a pitcher or find one that attaches right to your sink.

Reduce Buying in Bulk

Though buying more to save money may appeal to your frugality, most pills from big bottles expire and get thrown out. Throwing medications away gives them the potential to end up in our water.

Take It Back

Many communities have programs that allow certain drugs and medications to be taken back on certain days.

Support Legislation and Groups

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to increase education and regulations surrounding the production of environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals easily used by the body and the environment. Supporting the EPA and other organizations that put pressure on pharmaceutical manufacturers to make changes is something we can all do.

No matter how little you may be exposed, pharmaceutical pollution in our drinking water is a serious issue. Thankfully, there are measures we can take to save our health and our environment.


EmilyFolk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.