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pharmaceutical drugs

  • Do Berkey Water Filters Remove Pharmaceuticals & Hormones?

    Pharmaceutical drugs and hormones are classified as emerging drinking water contaminants that have been acknowledged as an area of growing concern by the EPA. Emerging contaminants are pollutants that are ubiquitous in water sources at low levels, but very little is known about the effects that these substances have on aquatic life or human health.

    So Does Berkey Remove Pharmaceuticals?

    Quick Answer: Yes, the Berkey water filter equipped with the standard black berkey filters WILL remove pharmaceuticals drugs and hormones that are found in the drinking water.  Here's a quick overview table of what's been tested.

    A listing of pharmaceuticals that the Berkey water filter has been tested to remove. "Does a Berkey Remove Pharmaceuticals?" A listing of pharmaceuticals that the Berkey has been tested to remove. "Does a Berkey Remove Pharmaceuticals?"

    There is growing concern over the presence of pharmaceutical drugs, personal care products and hormones in drinking water, and what the long term affect of exposure to these substances can have on our health. Many studies have found various types of drugs, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as hormones in streams, rivers and lakes across the country.

    Of the 250 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste that is estimated to be flushed annually, a large percentage originate from hospitals and care facilities, which generate large volumes of pharmaceutical waste, as well as households and veterinary sources, for example from farm animal waste when livestock is treated with growth hormones or veterinary medication. Until recently, flushing pharmaceutical waste was common practice, and while this may no longer occur directly, drugs (medication) and hormones (for example from contraceptives) are added to wastewater indirectly when they are excreted by the body. Yet, while wastewater does get treated at a wastewater treatment plant before being discharged into the environment, wastewater treatment facilities do not have the capacity to remove most of these contaminants. As wastewater often gets discharged into rivers and lakes that provide us with drinking water, these contaminants may be present in the water you drink.

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    How can you remove these pharmaceuticals from your drinking water?

    If you are concerned about the health effects of exposure to emerging contaminants which in all likelihood are present in your drinking water, you can invest in a good quality home water filter that is capable of removing these contaminants. However, because home water filters are not regulated or routinely tested before being marketed to consumers, not all filters are equal.

    However, while home water treatment filters are not regulated, manufacturers can undergo voluntary testing to ensure their product/s meet national standards and minimum requirements established by the NSF to ensure home water filters are capable of treating drinking water to a safe standard.

    The black berkey filters have been tested for removing these emerging contaminants, including pharmaceuticals and hormones such as ibuprofen, triclosan, caffeine and progesterone that are commonly found in drinking water.  The Berkey filters were tested for 17 different drugs and hormones, with each being removed to greater than 99.5% to meet NSF Standard 42 and NSF Standard 53 for chemical reduction.

  • Drugs in Wastewater Unlikely Crime Busters

    Legal and illegal drugs in wastewater poses both an ecological and human health challenge as they can make their way into freshwater systems and drinking water sources where they can harm wildlife and pose a human health risk. Now, new research shows that wastewater treatment facilities can play a key role in helping to monitor drug usage, and may ultimately help track drug dealers peddling their contraband.

    Swiss scientists recently tested the limitations of using wastewater analysis to crack down on crime. The results of their study was recently published in the journal Forensic Science. The researchers point out that analyzing wastewater to gain a better understanding of drug use is not new — in fact, it even has a name: wastewater-based epidemiology — however, up until now, very little focus has been placed on using this as a mechanism to fight crime. Yet, it can provide pertinent information to law enforcement that can be very useful to help whittle out drug dealers and combat crime.

    water-treatment-plant courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/neesam/4181025893

    Drugs break down within the body, leaving tell-tale traces of metabolites which are excreted as waste. These metabolites can be identified in wastewater, quantified and then back-calculated to determine how much of the drug was originally consumed, as well as provide a good estimate of how many people contributed to the sample. This analysis can provide insight on average drug consumption together with information on changing drug use patterns.

    For the study, which focused on the use of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine in two Swiss cities, the scientists analyzed wastewater and compared it to information received from police intelligence. To get an estimate of heroin usage in the Swiss city of Lausanne, the researchers measured morphine in sewage wastewater and subtracted the amount that was legally prescribed by medical practitioners. Using this method, from October 2013 to December 2014 the researchers estimated the average daily heroin consumption for the city to be 13 grams.

    During this period, law enforcement officers arrested two drug dealers. After analyzing their phone records and conducting interviews with drug users, it is estimated that between the two of them, the drug dealers supplied around 6 grams of heroin a day — roughly half the market share. This information provided by the wastewater epidemiology supported police intelligence suggesting that unlike methamphetamine and other drugs, heroin is supplied by just a handful of local drug dealers, who police could target effectively.

    As the study so succinctly point out: "You can flush, but you can't hide."

    "Combined with intelligence resulting from police work (e.g., investigations and informants), wastewater analysis can contribute to deciphering the structure of drug markets, as well as the local organization of trafficking networks," the authors conclude. "The results presented here constitute valuable pieces of information, which can be used by law enforcement to guide decisions at strategic and/or operational levels. Furthermore, intelligence gathered through investigations and surveillance constitutes an alternative viewpoint to evaluate results of wastewater analysis."

    The study's findings suggest that for some drugs, the wastewater-based epidemiology can be an effective tool to help law enforcement determine the market share that criminal elements control within the local drug market.

    Journal Reference

    Been, F. et al. Analysis of illicit drugs in wastewater – Is there an added value for law enforcement? Forensic Science International, Volume 266 , 215 - 221; DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2016.05.032

  • Drugs found in Cape Cod Water Wells

    The safety and quality of our nation's drinking water sources are increasingly being questioned, after residents in Flint, Michigan, as well as other regions have recently been found to have contaminated water supplied to their homes. Now a new study has found that pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals found in every-day consumer products can find their way into private drinking wells via wastewater discharged into septic systems. The findings add to growing health concerns related to unregulated chemical pollutants commonly found in household drinking water.

    While conducting the study, which was recently published online in Science of the Total Environment, scientists from the Silent Spring Institute discovered 27 unregulated chemical pollutants, including 12 different pharmaceutical drugs, chemical compounds used to manufacture flame retardants, non-stick coatings, and an artificial sugar-free sweetener.

    It is estimated that around 44 million people in the US depend on private wells for their drinking water. Yet, unlike public water wells, private drinking wells are not regulated by water officials; instead, residents are solely responsible for ensuring that water quality within their wells meets federal safety standards. Not only are private wells monitored less frequently, they are typically also shallower than public drinking wells, and thus more vulnerable to contamination from farming activities, construction, and local landfills. Consequently, contamination of drinking water in private wells continues to present an ongoing health risk to residents in many areas of the country.

    photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/ photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/

    Households that get their drinking water from private wells typically also make use of private septic systems for treating their wastewater. It is estimated that around 25% of all US homes make use of a septic system for treating household wastewater. Earlier studies conducted at Cape Cod by Silent Spring scientists revealed that hormone-disrupting pharmaceuticals and chemicals can leach through soils to contaminate both surface water and groundwater. According to lead author, Dr Laurel Schaider, a scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, the next step was to determine whether these contaminants could find their way from groundwater into household drinking water sources.

    To find the answer to this key question, Dr Schaider and her research team took water samples from 20 private drinking water wells across Cape Cod and tested them for 117 pollutants. They found that around 70% of the wells tested positive for PFCs (perfluoroalkyl substances) — a class of fluorinated chemicals that are sometimes referred to as PFASs. PFCs are known endocrine-disrupters that are associated with developmental disorders and cancer. These chemicals are commonly found in every-day household products, such as non-stick frying pans, pizza boxes, stain-resistant rugs and carpets, and waterproof clothing.

    The scientists found that 25% of all wells tested contained chemicals used in flame retardants, and found a staggering 60% of the tested wells contained pharmaceutical drugs. The antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, which is commonly prescribed for infections of the urinary tract, together with carbamazepine, a pharmaceutical drug that is prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorders, seizures and nerve pain, were amongst the more common drugs encountered.
    The researchers also assessed nitrate concentrations in the wells, and discovered that water in wells that had higher nitrate levels also tended to have more contaminants, and these were found in higher concentrations. The researchers note that all water samples came from wells that were situated in areas that were served by septic wastewater treatment systems, and closer analysis revealed that these backyard septic systems were most likely the source of the contamination.

    According to Schaider, this study is the first to show that septic systems can be a source of PFCs in private drinking wells, and considering that 85% of Cape Cod residents use septic treatment systems, the risk associated with contaminated drinking water is a serious health concern.
    Nitrates are also a drinking water contaminant that pose a serious health risk at high concentrations. Yet, while the EPA has set standards for nitrate levels in drinking water, there are none for the chemical contaminants found during the course of this study. While the levels of pharmaceuticals found in this study were considered to be much lower than those typically prescribed for a therapeutic dose, that doesn't necessarily lessen the risk notes Schaider.

    "Drugs are intended for specific uses and can have side effects," she says. "And we don't give certain medications to pregnant women or children because the developing body is very sensitive."

    People may also be allergic to certain drugs, such as antibiotics; and endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as flame retardants and PFCs, may produce adverse effects at very low doses. Furthermore, little is known about the health effects of exposure to a concoction of different chemicals found in drinking water.

    "People often don't think about where their tap water comes from," says Schaider. "But it's really important that they do and that they take steps to make sure it's safe."

    Households that depend on private wells for their drinking water should have the water tested annually. While these tests typically assess nitrate and bacterial concentrations rather than unregulated chemicals originating from household wastewater, this study shows that high nitrate levels could indicate the presence of other chemical pollutants.

    The current safety standard for nitrate in drinking water is set at 10 parts per million (ppm). However, the researchers found PFCs and pharmaceuticals in well water that had nitrate concentrations of less than 1 ppm. If you get your drinking water from a private well that has nitrate concentrations that are below the health standard set by the EPA, yet greater than 1 ppm, you should consider filtering your drinking water with a filter system to remove any pollutants that may contaminating your water. But as prevention is better than cure, to prevent these chemicals from making their way into the environment in the first place, we should limit our use of medications that contain toxic chemicals, refrain from flushing unused pharmaceuticals down the loo or drain, and where possible, move backyard septic systems away from drinking wells and ensure that they are well maintained.

    Journal Reference

    Laurel A. Schaider, Janet M. Ackerman, and Ruthann A. Rudel. Septic systems as sources of organic wastewater compounds in domestic drinking water wells in a shallow sand and gravel aquifer. Science of the Total Environment. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.12.081

  • Households, Not Hospitals, Primarily Responsible for Drug Residues in Wastewater

    Drugs and pharmaceuticals are listed as emerging contaminants that pose a concern in terms of drinking water contamination. Now a recent study conducted in Germany shows that most of the drug residues found in wastewater originate from domestic households rather than health care institutions such as nursing facilities and hospitals, whose output is considered insignificant by comparison.

    Scientists from Leuphana University analyzed data of drug consumption from a German hospital, nursing home and psychiatric clinic, and identified 50 substances that are frequently administered to patients which are commonly discharged into wastewater. Then, using the annually published German Drug Prescription Report which provides a list of drugs prescribed to patients on the public health-care scheme by German physicians, the researchers compared the average total use of these drugs over a 3-year period by health care institutions to the annual use of a selection of substances commonly used by German domestic households.

    Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctor/ Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctor/

    The findings, which were recently published in Environment International, show that for the large number of drugs tested, the average consumption — and thus contaminants discharged into wastewater — is much higher for domestic households compared to health care institutions.

    The results reveal that the use of drugs that act on the cardiovascular system or digestive tract is between 15 - 500 times higher in private homes than health care facilities, and as much as 2500 times higher than psychiatric clinics. Even painkiller consumption by hospitals is relatively low by comparison; for example, the use of Metamizole — a commonly prescribed painkiller — in hospitals accounts for only 22% of the total consumption. The only drugs that had significantly high consumption rates in health care facilities were Clomethiazole (a sedative widely used in hospitals), quetiapine and Moclobemide (a neuroleptic and antidepressant respectively, both of which are commonly used in nursing homes). By identifying these Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), it is possible to ascribe emissions of specific drug contaminants to certain health care institutions on a regional level.

    While earlier studies have shown that drugs discharged into wastewater by general hospitals is much lower than that discharged by domestic households, this study is the first to demonstrate that on a national scale, only a very small portion of the drugs discharged into wastewater originate from nursing homes and psychiatric care facilities compared to domestic households.

    The methodical approach — modeling the prediction of drug emissions using consumption data — is unique.

    "Our study has shown that consumption patterns provide at least as accurate a picture of wastewater pollution by individual substances as wastewater measurements themselves" explained Manuel Herrmann, lead author of the study. "However, with respect to the measurement procedure, our method combines the advantages of being far less complex and less costly. Thus, contamination can easily be predicted, and policy and management can react appropriately and promptly."

    With all these drugs floating around in our water ways, and not much known about the cumulative effect of long-term exposure, it would be wise to take precautions and filter drinking water to remove any persistent drugs that could be contaminating your drinking water. The Berkey water filter has recently been tested and shown to remove many pharmaceuticals from the water.

    Journal Reference:

    Manuel Herrmann, Oliver Olsson, Rainer Fiehn, Markus Herrel, Klaus Kümmerer. The significance of different health institutions and their respective contributions of active pharmaceutical ingredients to wastewater. Environment International, 2015; 85: 61 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.07.020

  • Heroin Analog Poses Risk as Carcinogenic Drinking Water Contaminant

    Drinking water is commonly disinfected with chlorine to kill any bacteria that could pose a health threat to those who drink it. This has substantially reduced, if not alleviated waterborne diseases in developed countries; however it has given rise to an emerging problem: These disinfectants produce by-products that are carcinogenic to humans. Health officials are wanting to learn more about the origins of these by-products, especially N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), an extremely potent carcinogenic, in order to reduce their concentrations in drinking water.

    In a report that was recently published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, scientists now show that methadone -- a common painkiller and analog of heroin that is found in rivers and lakes as a result of wastewater discharge -- may be a precursor of NDMA present in drinking water.

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    Around 40 years ago in the 1970s, researchers discovered that when used as a water disinfectant, chlorine is able to convert organic compounds in dead plant matter found in surface freshwater systems into trihalomethanes, which are known to be carcinogenic. Consequently, many municipal water treatment facilities switched to chloramines for disinfecting their drinking water supplies, as they reduce the production of trihalomethanes by as much as 90%, says Susan Richardson, an environmental analytical chemist from the University of South Carolina. But chloramines are not totally harmless; they react with organic nitrogen precursors that occur naturally in the environment to form N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Animal studies have shown that NDMA can cause cancer of the kidney, liver and respiratory system.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the standard for NDMA in drinking water to 0.7 ng/L, but according to Richardson, “a significant portion of the U.S. population is exposed to NDMA at concentrations above this level.”

    According to the study's lead author, David Hanigan, a graduate student of environmental engineering at Arizona State University, scientists are aware that treated sewage discharged into freshwater systems provides a potent source of these NDMA precursors, but it is difficult to identify them amongst the hundreds of thousands of other compounds found in wastewater. Previous studies that focused on a handful of pharmaceutical drugs to test whether they formed NDMA when exposed to chloramines, identified some precursors, including ranitidine, commonly used to reduce stomach acid. “But even though ranitidine has a high NDMA yield in the lab, it doesn’t occur in surface water,” notes Hanigan.

    So Hanigan, together with his research team, set about collecting real surface water samples from 10 US and Canadian rivers and sewage effluent from a wastewater treatment facility in Arizona so that they could look for potential NDMA precursors. Using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques to search for compounds that had the potential to form NDMA in the presence of chloramines, the scientists ran the data through computer software to isolate an ion that enabled them to confirm that methadone was present in the water samples. Methadone -- a prescription drug used to treat pain and heroin addiction -- is excreted from the body and eventually makes its way through sewage treatment plants to freshwater systems, where it can linger for months.

    When the scientists exposed the methadone to monochloramine, 60% of the methadone produced NDMA after reacting with the chloramines. According to Hanigan, this is significant, as in previous studies only five chemicals exhibited an NDMA yield over 50%, and none of those chemicals have been detected in sewage effluent.

    After modelling a typical American community consisting of 100,000 people that consume methadone in line with the national average rate and discharges treated sewage effluent diluted by 40% when mixed with water from the receiving river, the researchers estimated that drinking water downstream would contain approximately 5-ng/L NDMA, which is typically measured at US water treatment plants that use chloramine as a drinking water disinfectant.

    “This paper shows that methadone can be a major source of NDMA in drinking water,” says Richardson. "With EPA poised to potentially regulate NDMA in drinking water, the findings will help researchers determine how to prevent its formation."

    Some utilities treat water with activated carbon or ozone before it enters the treatment plant to remove organic precursors of NMDA.

  • Chlorine Treatment of Wastewater May Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance

    ** Chlorine is a chemical commonly used to disinfect wastewater at sewage treatment plants

    ** Preliminary studies show that chlorine treatment at sewage plants may promote the development of new strains of antibiotics

    ** Results showed that when doxycycline was exposed to chlorine in treated wastewater, the antibiotic properties of their wastewater samples increased

    ** Strong recommendation for better methods to remove pharmaceuticals at treatment plants required, in addition to education regarding alternate means of pharmaceutical disposal

    Chlorine, a chemical that is commonly used to disinfect wastewater at sewage treatment works, may fail to completely remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater that enters these plants. Consequently, trace levels of pharmaceuticals, including drugs, are continually discharged into our waterways from wastewater treatment plants. Now, scientists report that preliminary studies show that chlorine treatment at sewage plants may promote the development of new strains of antibiotics, that could then also be released into the environment where they can in turn potentially promote antibiotic resistance.

    Graduate student Nicole Kennedy measures the antibiotic activity of various samples in the lab. Graduate student Nicole Kennedy measures the antibiotic activity of various samples in the lab.

    The findings, which were presented at an American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemistry of Natural Resources exhibition being held over the course of this week, suggest that wastewater treatment facilities need to re-evaluate the methods they use to treat and disinfect wastewater prior to discharge.

    "Pharmaceuticals that get out into the environment can harm aquatic life, making them react slowly in the wild and disrupting their hormone systems," explains Olya Keen; adding that when organisms are exposed to more antibiotics -- even when levels are low -- antibiotic resistant microbes can develop, which can ultimately result in antibiotics being less effective at fighting human bacterial infections.

    "Treated wastewater is one of the major sources of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics in the environment," says Keen. "Wastewater treatment facilities were not designed to remove these drugs. The molecules are typically very stable and do not easily get biodegraded. Instead, most just pass through the treatment facility and into the aquatic environment."

    But apart from their inability to remove all pharmaceuticals from sewage, wastewater treatment plants that use chlorine during the disinfection process may actually further promote the formation of new strains of antibiotics in the water that is discharged. Keen, together with her research team from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, conducted a series of laboratory experiments to test this theory. The results showed that when doxycycline -- an antibiotic that is widely used across America -- is exposed to chlorine in treated wastewater, the antibiotic properties of their wastewater samples increased.

    "Surprisingly, we found that the products formed in the lab sample were even stronger antibiotics than doxycycline, the parent and starting compound," Keen explains. The researchers are in the process of identifying the properties of these "transformation products", and are particularly interested in determining if these compounds are new, as yet unidentified antibiotics.

    Keen suggests that for now, reducing the amount of pharmaceuticals that enter a wastewater treatment facility may be the best, if not only, solution to this problem. However, because disposal of pharmaceutical products is currently unregulated, she proposes that people should be encouraged to collect and incinerate unused drugs and other pharmaceutical products rather than simply flushing them down toilet or throwing them out with the garbage, as both these scenarios can result in increased environmental exposure, ultimately contributing to antibiotic resistance.

    Furthermore, this research also has implications for drinking water treatment facilities, many of which disinfect drinking water with chlorine during the treatment process. For chlorine to be effective at purifying drinking water, it needs to remain in the water distribution pipe network for hours. This prohibits the growth of microbes, but it also gives the chlorine plenty of time to interact with any pharmaceutical drugs that may be present in the water, and this interaction could encourage the formation of new antibiotic strains.

    RESEARCH CONTACT:
    Olya Keen, Ph.D.
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    9201 University City Blvd.
    Charlotte, NC 28223-0001
    Phone: 704-687-5048
    Email: okeen@uncc.edu

  • Drug Crazed Fish

    Wild fish populations are under enormous pressure due to widespread deterioration of water quality in aquatic ecosystems largely as a result of climate change and environmental pollution. And to make matters worse, new research reveals that pharmaceuticals, or 'emerging pollutants' as they're often referred to, can cause genetic mutations in fish that affect brain development and ultimately their behavior.

    Antidepressants, such as Prozac, are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US today. Traces of these drugs are excreted by the body, where they enter the sewer system and ultimately our waterways. Consequently, they are also the most commonly occurring drugs found contaminating US waterways, where they cause neurological changes in fish that cause them to become anxious, anti-social, and in some cases even homicidal.

    According to a report published recently in Environmental Health News, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee conducted a laboratory study on young developing fathead minnows exposed to antidepressants at levels equivalent to those typically found in discharged wastewater, documenting their behavior following exposure. The study tested the minnows' response to three different drugs – Prozac, Tegretol and Effexor – individually and in various combinations.

    pharmaceutical_water_minnows

    The laboratory observations showed that male minnows exposed to very low levels of Prozac ignored females, preferring to hide under a tile rather than reproducing, and it also took them longer to capture prey. When the level of exposure was increased, but still within the range of levels commonly found in discharged wastewater, egg production in female minnows was reduced while male minnows became more aggressive, even killing females in severe cases.

    Ecological Implications

    These behavioral changes can have drastic ecological implications. Lead researcher Rebecca Klaper, a professor of freshwater sciences, points out that “any changes in reproduction, eating and avoiding prey can have devastating impacts for fish populations”.  According to Klaper, neurological changes within the brain can cause all kinds of affects in fish. Considering that human brains have a similar gene structure to fish, these findings raise questions as to whether traces of these drugs in drinking water could be harmful to human health.

    Fish populations downstream from sewage treatment plants are most at risk, as it is in these waterways that pharmaceuticals tend to be found at higher concentrations. Only within the last ten years or so have technological innovations made it possible for wastewater treatment plants to detect drugs in wastewater before it leaves the plant, as well as in downstream water samples, however, many still don't test the water for traces of drugs.

    According to the report, a 2008 study conducted by US Geological Surveys across 25 states of waterways that supply drinking water found that 53 of 74 waterways tested had at least one of 36 pharmaceuticals they were testing for. Some sites tested positive for 40% of the pharmaceuticals.

    Antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals are a relatively new form of water pollutant, and as such, they are not currently regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, they are increasingly becoming a cause for concern, and according to the EHN report, have been listed as contaminants for possible regulation due to the potential impact of these drugs on wildlife and also as drinking water contaminants.

    Of further concern is the fact that pharmaceuticals could bioaccumulate within the tissues of fish and other aquatic organisms. While pharmaceuticals are not likely to persist to the same extent that toxic chemicals such as PCBs do, due to their widespread use, there is a persistent flow of these drugs through the waterways, so they are being constantly replenished and continuously absorbed by fish and other aquatic organisms, ultimately producing a similar result.

  • Emerging Pollutants: Drugs in Drinking Water

    Contamination of drinking water by toxic pollutants, is a major concern. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an exceedingly long list of both primary and secondary drinking water contaminants that it regulates. However, a new form of pollution, collective referred to as 'emerging pollutants', which consist of contaminants that stem from pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), are rapidly becoming more of a concern.

    Most people take drugs or medication at some point in their life, and all of us use personal care products to a greater or lesser degree every day. Drugs and medication fight off bacteria and viruses that cause us to become ill, or reduce inflammation and relieve pain. But these drugs don't simply disappear once they are swallowed. Traces of drugs that are not metabolized by the body are excreted, where they enter the sewer and freshwater systems. However, most sewage treatment facilities are not adequately equipped to be able to remove these notions and potions from the treated water before it leaves the treatment plant. Consequently, these drugs flow from the wastewater treatment plants into surrounding freshwater systems where they not only wreak havoc with wildlife, but can be potentially harmful to humans who drink the water.

    How Widespread is the Problem?

    According to the EPA, Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) can be defined as all personal hygiene, health, and beauty products, as well as veterinary products used on pets and livestock for health or growth enhancement. These products include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, growth hormones (steroids), sex hormones (contraceptives), antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, fragrances, toiletries, and cosmetics. As this list covers a broad scope of over the counter drugs, it stands to reason that drugs can enter our freshwater systems from a wide range of sources that include:

    1. Bathing, showering, and washing where soaps, shampoo, and fragrant oils, creams and lotions are washed down the drain.
    2. Drugs may be released into the sewer when they are excreted or if expired medication is flushed down the toilet.
    3. Sunscreen and body lotion can wash off into the water when a person swims in rivers or lakes.
    4. Hormones used during agriculture or drugs used on domestic animals or livestock can be released with the animals waste to contaminate soil and groundwater systems through leaching and freshwater rivers and lakes through runoff.
    5. Drugs disposed in hospital waste or in the waste of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies can find its way into sewer or freshwater systems.

    According to the EPA, ''PPCPs are found in any water body influenced by raw or treated sewage, including rivers, streams, ground water, coastal marine environments, and many drinking water sources.'' They further state that ''PPCPs have been identified in most places sampled.''

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    Effects of Pharmaceuticals on Wildlife

    Drugs and pharmaceuticals, such as contraceptives, can drastically affect fish and other aquatic wildlife. Research studies have revealed that hormones used in contraceptive pills can affect egg and sperm production in fish, and can even cause male fish to become feminized to a point where they start producing eggs instead of sperm. If this scenario persists for any length of time it will lead to a rapid decline in affected fish populations.  Sex abnormalities have also been noted in frogs. This begs the question: can this have a similar affect on humans who drink water contaminated with these hormones and drugs?

    Drugs, hormones, and other pharmaceuticals have been specifically designed to affect living organisms. It therefore stands to reason that these products will have an effect on all living organisms when they are involuntarily released into natural systems. This is particularly worrisome because up until recently nobody has thought to monitor the extent or effect of these drugs in our waterways.

    Unfortunately our wildlife is not in a position to filter water to remove toxins which they are continually exposed to. Ultimately, this problem urgently needs further research and measures put into place to reduce the risks to both our wildlife and our own health.

    The Black Berkey Filters

    You may have noticed that there are some very popular water filter companies that are starting to advertise that their filters remove pharmaceuticals from the drinking water. These filters are made with much lower quality filter ingredients, so a logical train of thought would be that if their filters remove them, and if the filtration media used is similar, then the black berkeys would be effective also. However, many of these larger companies are not providing test results to back up these claims, in addition to the fact that slight variations in filter media types can produce varying filtration results. Thus, at this point we reserve our positive endorsement for both these companies making the claims without testing results and our own black berkeys (until we have tests in hand), and rather provide this information so that the consumer can make the most informed decision possible. The reality is that this is a relatively new public concern and the water filtration industry as a whole needs to catch up quickly.

    10/25/14 Update:  The black berkeys have now undergone testing for pharmaceuticals and they removed these contaminants at above 99.9%

  • Should We Worry About Pharmaceutical Drugs in our Drinking Water Supply?

    The use of antidepressants by pregnant women has been associated with autism, adding one more factor to the many that expectant mothers with a history of depression need to weigh when balancing their own health and that of their unborn child's. But do the rest of us need to worry about exposure to Prozac, other antidepressants and pharmaceuticals in our drinking water? One recent study linking water born antidepressants and autism says: maybe we do.

    Antidepressants in Water Linked to Autism

    Scientists at Idaho State University exposed guppies to prozac through tank water and observed gene expression also seen in autistic people. The report suggesting "that small amounts of psychiatric medications found in the drinking supply may be a cause of autism" was immediately criticized as jumping to conclusions not proven. The role of the genes expressed in autism is unknown. Also unknown is how the response between fish and humans differ with similar drug exposures.

    Still, researchers are excited by the finding. "An environmental cause [of autism] is really not on the radar for a lot of people," study author Michael Thomas, a professor of evolutionary biology at Idaho State University in Pocatello, told Bloomberg News. "My sincere hope is that this opens the door to a new question and allows people to look into that possibility."

    Lots of Prescription Drugs Found in Drinking Water

    A study in 2008 found detectible levels of at least one of more than 100 different prescription drugs in the water supply serving 41 million Americans. Prescription drugs find their way into surface and drinking water supplies in a variety of ways:

    1. Drugs and vitamins are often not completely metabolized by people and are excreted out into the sewer system. Because many sewage treatment plants are not equipped to filter out drugs, they simply wash into rivers and head downstream.
    2. Improper disposal of unused prescriptions pollute our water ways. Advice circulated for years that unused drugs should be flushed down toilets might prevent misuse of unused drugs by people, but it's not the best solution to pharmaceutical disposal. AP found that an estimated 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals are thrown out each year by hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
    3. Drugs of all kinds are routinely administered to livestock, either directly or in drug-laced feed. Rainwater runoff from animal feedlots has been found to contain antibiotics, synthetic hormones, and all sorts of other drugs.

    Protecting People from Prescription Drug Water Pollution

    1. Would a Black Berkey Filter Element Work? There are simply too many varieties of pharmaceuticals for a water filtering fully system to be tested to see how it performs.  As the World Health Organization states" Practical difficulties associated with implementing monitoring programs for pharmaceuticals include the lack of standardized sampling and analysis protocols, high costs and the limited availability of the analytical instruments required to measure the diverse range of pharmaceuticals that may be present." What we do know from existing test results, is that the purification process used by the Black Berkey filter elements remove more pollutants and chemicals than most any other water filter system available on the market today. According to the WHO, "conventional water treatment processes, such as chlorination, can remove approximately 50% of these compounds, whereas more advanced treatment processes, such as ozonation, advanced oxidation, activated carbon, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis, can achieve higher removal rates."
    2. Would a Black Berkey Filter Element Work? (Cont.) You may have noticed that there are some very popular water filter companies that are starting to advertise that their filters remove pharmaceuticals from the drinking water. These filters are made with lower quality filter ingredients, so a logical train of thought would be that if their filters remove them, and if the filtration media used is similar, then the black berkeys would be effective also. However, many of these larger companies are not providing test results to back up these claims, in addition to the fact that slight variations in filter media types can produce varying filtration results. Thus, at this point we reserve our positive endorsement for both these companies making the claims without testing results and our own black berkeys (until we have tests in hand), and rather provide this information so that the consumer can make the most informed decision possible. The reality is that this is a relatively new public concern and the water filtration industry as a whole needs to catch up quickly.
    3. Dispose of Prescriptions Responsibly. Drugs should never be flushed.
      1. The best way to dispose of prescription drugs is to turn unneeded medicines over to a pharmaceutical drug collection service such as this one in St. Louis, MO.
      2. The second best way to dispose of drugs is in your trash collection. Mix pills and medicines with coffee grounds or kitty litter to help prevent prescription drug abuse and seal in a plastic bag encapsulate the drugs and prevent leakage (though your landfill should also be lined to prevent that).

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