Well, nothing except that they can all be found in your tap water. Water is the simplest, and purest thing you can put into your body. Our bodies can survive over a month without food but only 3 days or so without water. It is the basic necessity to keep all your organs functioning well. It helps your kidneys do their filtering work more efficiently and it is, for those of us living in a modern society, a given. We rarely think about our water, it’s plentiful and found easily but more and more we need to wonder how safe our tap water truly is. Random testing by the Environmental Protection Agency has shown much of our tap water to be contaminated with heavy metals like lead and chromium, chemicals like pesticides and fungicides and pharmaceutical drugs like sex hormones, antibiotics, pain medications etc. Are you shocked? I certainly am. Where do all these things come from?
To answer this question we really need to find our where our tap water comes from. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live my water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir about 200 miles away from my home in Silicon Valley. The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a beautiful place near Yosemite and the reservoir is one of 9 which supply water to the San Francisco Area. The water comes to us unfiltered but treated for bacteria using chloramine and fluoride is added before it arrives at my home. So, how do all the pharmaceuticals and chemicals get into the water?
Runoff from local farming and contamination of groundwater eventually contaminates our precious drinking water source. Whatever we dump into our toilets are treated at sewage treatment centers and released almost unchanged into our oceans and waterways. So the birth control pills, the antibiotics, the cholesterol lowering drugs all part of human excreta are flushed down the toilet and eventually return to us in our water and in our food. Because our water travels long distances and come to our home pipes with little or no filtration, it is easy to see how we might be at risk for contamination and side effects from medications even if we don’t take the medication for therapeutic reasons. Caffeine, pain killers, toxic chemotherapy agents, sex hormones all have small and subtle effects on our bodies. Many scientists feel the very low concentration of these medications will do little to harm our bodies in the long run. However, my opinion differs from these scientists because I know how susceptible our bodies are to the subtlest of influences over a long time of exposure.
Evidence of the drugs and chemicals in our drinking water affecting our smallest creatures are observed in our ecosystem. It has been shown that low levels of exposure to our drinking water has lead to sex changes in tiny minnows, specifically, the male fat headed minnow which in the presence of female sex hormones found in our water turn female. Sewage sludge has been added to some of our cow feed and their manure are used to fertilize our fruits and vegetables, leading to hormonal activity in our meats and vegetables. One of the most frightening things to consider (as if sex-changing minnows aren’t enough) is the low level antibiotics in drinking water leading to possible antibiotic resistance in bacteria found increasing throughout the world. In India last year there were at least 3 incidences of complete antibiotic resistant bacteria found. This means that there were NO antibiotics that were able to treat the bacterial infection that these people had. Breeding of this bacteria and the increasing possibility of new strains that were antibiotic resistant are of considerable concern for everyone.
Recently the City of Chicago and the EPA had discovered that current testing methods of water were inadequate to get the full picture of lead and chromium contamination in tap water. It was found that over half of the homes tested had unacceptably high levels of lead. There is absolutely no safe level of lead in our water. The EPA establishes a low level acceptable for tap water but many homes are much higher because of old piping and lead solder for copper piping. Even low to moderate levels of lead exposure will affect IQs in children and put adults at risk for heart attacks and strokes. Lead is very important test that I do on patients with high blood pressure because contamination is quite common.
So, what to do about your water? If at all possible testing your water with a reputable water test company is a first step. Know what is in your water and then choose to improve it. What's in your tap water? Also read What to do about the drugs in your water. The EPA has some interesting resources about how to properly dispose of your prescription or over the counter medications. Hint: it does not involve a toilet.