Picture this: Three guys go into a bar. The batender asks, "What'll you have?" "A beer", says the first guy. Second one says, "Whiskey" and turning to the third guy asks, "what about you?" "Oh me, I really need a good strong kick, one with lots of punch to it... Yep, I think this day calls for a big one on tap! Hey bartender, how about some of your tap water!"

It was hard not to hear about the mess our water supply is in; the March AP (Associated Press) story was picked up by almost every media outlet imaginable. Members of a "National Investigative Team" reviewed reports and talked to over 200 officials and scientists for a five-month period. The AP writers' conclusions struck fear into many a thirsty American, who was suddenly told he was drinking urine. Not any urine either, but drug-filled urine, possibly from their neighbor up the road.

The first to feel the effects were the water filter companies, who have received many inquiries from
consumers. Even though a less widely published story came out in 2000 after the U.S. Geological Survey's research, apparently few in the industry have run tests on their products to find out if they could filter out pharmaceuticals. Those that did run checks only tested a few drugs.

The EPA hasn't responded either, as to this day there are still no minimum standards detailing how many parts per million of drugs to water is tolerable. Nor does anyone know the long-term effects on our bodies from drinking such pharmaceutical cocktails on a daily basis. Research on fish and other animals shows many ill effects, which suggests we will be affected as well, if only by eating the fish.

It was pointed out that this problem did not only pertain to the U.S., but recent studies have found similar drugs in the water supplies of Canada, Asia, Australia, Europe, and even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea. Other studies have found them in Brazil and South Africa.

The article also made it clear that bottled water is no solution, as it can pick up the contaminants from the tap water from which it is filtered, or the natural springs from which it is collected. Virtually no water source is safe, since the problem has not yet been thoroughly addressed.

Many opinions and old surveys no longer relevant are cited, but after a critical look at the article, we aren't enlightened much. The writers state that when it comes to water filters, reverse osmosis models do the best job. No evidence for this is given, however.

A little deeper investigation highlighted the problem of antibiotics. Since bacteria can adapt to them and nullify their effectiveness, the constant exposure of antibiotics in the water will give the many bacteria strains ample time to mount their resistance.

There are additional issues to those highlighted by the AP's article. Besides the overwhelming conclusion that our world has become too enamored with pharmaceuticals for our own good, the question still should be asked: Why do most local governments prescribe large doses of one drug equally distributed to every man, woman and child without regard to need and without any scientific basis?

The drug is fluoride. Many readers know it as a chemical waste product of the fertilizer industry that is problematic environmentally in regard to how to dispose of it. So the government and the industry figured out that putting it in our drinking water would solve the problem. For more Natural News articles on fluoride, go here.

Many states voted to require fluoridated water, but in a few states it is up to the local water company. Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water is an example of one group which has actively opposed the fluoridation. They feel that the fluoride itself is bad enough for health, but its negative effects are multiplied because fluoride compounds are contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and other toxins.

Not only that, but studies have shown that fluoride can pull lead from pipes and add that to the poisonous mix coming from our taps. That might be the reason fluoride also seems to bring copper and aluminum with it as well as the lead.

Animal studies have demonstrated evidence of fluoride's toxic effects on brain tissue. These include brain cell damage, reduced lipid content, impairment in anti-oxidant defense systems, increased aluminum uptake, and the formation of beta-amyloid plaques. These are the plaques which are indicative of Alzheimer's Disease. Maybe this explains why many dogs seem to prefer to drink from puddles than their own tap-filled water dishes.

Complicating the ability to control the level of fluoride is the presence in many rivers of "naturally occurring fluoride". It has been hard to find research on the source of such "natural" fluoride, but it possibly could come from the same source as the pharmaceuticals, or from fertilized soils along the stream banks.

It appears that, whatever the agenda of the AP for its wide dissemination of the news that the presence of pharmaceuticals in our water supply is alarming, it would have done us all a service if a result is that citizens become more aware of the problems with fluoride.

At least, most kinds of water filters will filter out the fluoride and chlorine in the tap water. A more difficult problem is filtering out the other pharmaceuticals.

In-home filters come in several basic types: Reverse osmosis, carbon filters, and distillation models. Until the levels and standards have been set, comparing the abilities of the different types for filtering out drugs will be difficult.

The Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters have been very successful at filtering out toxins and contaminants and possibly will work for drugs. The problem with them is that they require good water pressure and a large volume of water, 75% of which is wasted.

Not only that, but this waste water takes in the contaminants, resulting in a much more highly condensed brew. This water goes back down the drain and into the water supply and the cycle repeats. The best way to deal with this might be to drain this water into a storage tank to be used for irrigation of one's garden or lawn or drain it directly to an irrigation hose.

Shane Ellison, an organic chemist and author of The Hidden Truth about Cholesterol Lowering Drugs, favors the five-stage RioFlow Reverse Osmosis filter, priced at about $169. When asked if one could safely run the leftover water out to the garden to irrigate fruit trees or veggies, he stated "Cellulose acts as a pretty good filter, stopping drug uptake. But I've never tested this personally. Most plants only take up water and a bit of nitrogen... Using the sun, they then make all the nutritional components 'in-house' so to speak... It's quite miraculous when you consider it..."

Carbon filters are used in a variety of water filters. A few carbon filter systems, depending on the makeup of their filtering material, have been certified for the removal of lead, asbestos, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), cysts, and coliform. The inorganic chemicals would not stick to the carbon, however. Another downside is that carbon filters have to be cleaned often and/or replaced to be effective.

One maker, Aquasana, states "Pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs are virtually all Synthetic Organic Chemicals (SOCs) or Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) and are effectively filtered out by our filters. The coconut shell granulated activated carbon used in all of our filters is recognized by the EPA as the best available technology for the removal of SOCs and VOCs." They failed to mention what happens to the few inorganic chemicals, however.

Distillation units work by steaming the water and separating out the contaminants from the water. This type provides very clean water, but a charcoal filter needs to be incorporated, since toxins like chlorine can both vaporize and re-condense along with the water being cleaned. Beneficial liquid trace minerals will be lost in the distilling process, so they will have to be added back in. Electricity is also required for these units.

The best choice will probably be a combination of reverse osmosis filter augmented by pre- and post-activated carbon filters. The filter will definitely need several stages and different kinds of filtering media. There is even a product which adds a special ceramic filter to it and attempts to incorporate the best of all three methods. It is the kind that is used by NASA in our space program.

Another consideration is whether or not to filter ALL the water in the residence, or just the drinking water. Whole house systems are expensive, but shower filters are also effective in removing chlorine and other toxins. It is even possible to find filters that work with the tub faucet so bath water can also be chlorine-free.

In the next few months, it can be anticipated that water filter companies will be running tests on the abilities of their filters to remove pharmaceuticals. Water companies will be fending off questions from consumers and preparing statements. It is doubtful that water companies and cities will be able to improve water quality very quickly.

Since the earlier studies, small pilot programs and one-day pickups of unused drugs have popped up in the Northeast, California, Washington, Florida, and elsewhere.

At least one state, Illinois, is now calling for a testing of water supplies for drugs. Illinois already has a disposal program for unused drugs, in an attempt to cut down the amount disposed of in toilets etc. The Illinois EPA has removed six 30-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals from its pilot program so far.

In this program, recommended by the EPA, solid waste agencies in four locations collect unused drugs from senior centers, retirement complexes, and convalescent centers in their areas. The state EPA collects unused pharmaceuticals at its twice-yearly household hazardous waste collection events. In addition, many hospitals, pharmacies and police departments offer programs to collect and dispose of unwanted drugs.

Maine recently started a four-county program in which pharmaceutical buyers will take home prepaid mailers in which they will send drug leftovers to a way station. From there, most will be picked up for transport to incinerators. Organizers intend to eventually extend the program statewide.

To dispose of unused drugs, the EPA suggests putting them among coffee grounds or kitty litter in a non-permeable container such as a coffee can before bringing them to the collection site. Some drugs should be flushed down the toilet; if so, the label should so indicate.

Montreal plans to be the first large metropolis in the world to disinfect all its waste water using ozonation, a cutting-edge technology that uses high voltages of electricity to charge oxygen molecules. This produces ozone gas which will remove bacteria, viruses, drugs and industrial chemicals dumped into the St. Lawrence River, partly by a large number of pharmaceutical plants. Although many cities already use ozonation, it has not been done with this large a volume.

In other studies, ozonation with advanced oxidation processes were found effective to reduce or eliminate the drugs in drinking water. Different pharmaceuticals require different levels of ozone applied. Ozonation plus activated carbon filtration is best for more of these. Though ozonation is cheap, the problem with using it alone is that the ozone's effect wears off quickly.

For some drugs, like antibiotics, a good alternative is membrane filtration by RO. Nanofiltration and RO filtration were found effective in Arizona and California studies. Other research found that pre-filtration and final RO filtration was effective. Granular activated carbon combined with RO is even better.

Overall, it can be concluded that ozonation and AOPs (Advanced Oxidation Processes) are promising processes for the efficient removal of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. If all sewage treatment plants added more time for the sludge to sit, the results could be even better, as the sludge-eating micro-organisms would have more time to do their preliminary work.

If manufacturing companies must pay fines for releasing toxins into our environment, it is logical that the pharmaceutical companies should fund the cleanup of drugs from our water supply. Since the likelihood of that happening is doubtful, the consumer will bear the responsibility for providing their own filtering systems so they can feel they are doing the most possible to ensure the greatest health for their families.

Local governments will have to adopt programs such as that in Illinois. After all, the problem left untreated will only get worse. Every drug that gets filtered out re-enters the water supply by one route or another, further compounding the problem.

Researchers have made progress, though more needs to be done to find the least expensive system that will do the necessary job of delivering water that is fit to drink.