Drugs In Our
For a quarter of a
century I have been arguing that the drinking water from our taps is now unsafe
to drink because it contains pharmaceutical residues. People who drink tap water
are drinking second-hand drug residues. (There is more on this in my books
Food for Thought, How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You and
The basic problem is that after a drug is swallowed
much of the compound is excreted in urine and will end up contaminating drinking
water. So when you turn on your tap you get bits of old contraceptive pill,
antibiotic and tranquilliser in your nice sparkling glass of apparently clean
drinking water. You can't see the drug residues, of course. And the water
companies can't get them out.
From time to time newspapers and magazines
around the world discover some new research showing that male fish are changing
sex in drug polluted rivers (it is, of course, the female hormones from
contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy which cause this particular
problem) but once they realise the size of the problem they soon back off and
forget about the story.
It was back in 1982 - in a column I was writing in a
medical journal - when I raised the question of whether or not public drinking
water supplies could be polluted with female hormone residues which might affect
the development of male babies.
I tried to get television and radio
journalists to take up the problem. And I tried to interest politicians in the
topic too. But although many were horrified by the idea all soon decided that it
was far too controversial a subject.
`It'll frighten people far too
much!' was the common view. However, it wasn't just the possibility of female
hormones - residues from the contraceptive pill - which might be causing
problems which worried me.
At the time when I first wrote about this
subject I was so alarmed by what I had discovered that I spent over a year doing
research before I wrote the article and my fear was built on several pieces of
* Fact one: More and more people are taking
increasingly powerful medicinal drugs such as antibiotics, painkillers,
tranquillisers, sleeping tablets, hormones (particularly those in the
contraceptive pill) and steroids. Huge numbers of people take drugs every day.
Not many people go through a whole year without taking at least one course of
tablets. Half of the population will take a prescribed medicine today (and
tomorrow and the day after that). And on top of the prescribed drugs there are
all the non-prescription drugs that are taken - pills bought over the chemists'
counter and taken day in and day out.
* Fact two: Many drugs are
excreted in the urine when the body has finished with them. For example, up to
75% of a dose of a tranquilliser may be excreted in the urine. With other drugs
the figure may be as high as 90%. Some drugs which are degraded can chemically
react with the environment and become active again.
* Fact three:
After going through standard purification procedures, waste water is often
discharged into fresh water rivers.
* Fact four: Drinking water
supplies are often taken from fresh water rivers - the same rivers into which
the waste water has been discharged.
* Fact five: Water purification
programmes were designed many years ago - before doctors started prescribing
vast quantities of drugs for millions of patients and before the problem of
removing drug residues had been thought of.
I felt that even someone with
the modest, shoe sized IQ of a government minister should be able to see where
all this was leading.
It seemed clear to me that anyone who turned on a
tap and made a cup of tea could be getting a cocktail containing leftover
chemicals from other people's tranquillisers, sleeping pills, antibiotics,
contraceptive pills, heart drugs, anti-arthritis pills and so on.
1982 I wrote that: `with an increasing number of people taking drugs there must
be a risk that the drinking water supplies will eventually become contaminated
so heavily that people using ordinary drinking water will be effectively taking
drugs. Or have we already reached that point: and are people who drink water in
certain areas of the country already passively involved in daily drug
Back in 1982 no one seemed to know the answer to that
And today I still don't know the
Are you an involuntary drug taker? Could you
be addicted to any of the drug residues which might be in your drinking water?
Could you be taking regular supplies of bits and pieces of other people's
antibiotics? Are you taking contraceptive hormone leftovers? Could these drug
residues be affecting your fertility? Could drug residues affect the health of
any unborn children?
No one in the Government seems concerned by these
I think they should be.
It may soon be too late, for
evidence is already appearing to suggest that my original fears were
A report published in 1999 by the Environmental Agency in the
UK reports that 57% of the roach in one river have changed sex. Chemicals in
treated sewage and factory waste are blamed for upsetting natural fish hormones.
The researchers found that the fish were more likely to be affected when they
spent time close to a sewage outlet. They also found that fish who lived
upstream (away from the sewage outlet) were much less likely to be affected.
Apparently, the chemicals in sewage which are most likely to affect fish are
female hormones such as oestrogens. Strangely, some scientists still seem
puzzled about the source of the female hormones.
While they were
studying lake water for pesticide contamination, Swiss chemists were surprised
to find that the lake was polluted with clofibric acid - a drug which is used to
lower blood cholesterol levels. The possibility that this could have been caused
by industrial spillage was ruled out when it was established that clofibric acid
is not manufactured in Switzerland. When the chemists checked other lakes and
rivers they found low concentrates of the drug everywhere.
researchers in Germany started looking for clofibric acid they found the drug in
all sorts of water supplies - including tap water.
researchers looked harder.
And they found lipid lowering drugs,
analgesics (including diclofenac and ibuprofen), beta blocker heart drugs,
antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and hormones. They found all these drugs in
water bodies and in drinking water. And they found that the concentrations were
highest in heavily populated areas. Once they had ruled out industrial spillage
the researchers realised that the drugs had come from human body wastes. Exactly
what I had predicted in 1982.
No one knows what drugs can be found in
U.S. drinking water. Why? No one is looking. The American Government does not
monitor water supplies to see if they contain drug residues. Nor does it require
anyone else to do this.
But there seems little doubt that drinking water
is now heavily contaminated with drug residues. And the long term effect of all
this is difficult to estimate. Minute amounts of antibiotic in drinking water
can affect bacteria in many different ways. They can surely have a dramatic
effect on the development of antibiotic resistant organisms.
There is not
yet any evidence showing a clear link between water pollution and problems (such
as fertility) affecting human beings. But the absence of any such evidence may
possibly be a result of the fact that as far as I know no one has yet done any
research into this issue. The research would be extremely simple to do and
wouldn't cost very much. Scientists would simply count the number of people with
fertility problems (or some other specific disorder) who had drunk re-circulated
water, and then compare that figure with the incidence of fertility problems
among people who had drunk fresh spring or borehole water. But who would want to
do such research? Certainly not the water companies.
How are the drugs in
your drinking water affecting your health? Is your daily cocktail of
tranquillisers, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, chemotherapy drugs, heart
drugs, painkillers and so on making you ill? How do all these drugs interact?
Are they likely to be at least partly responsible for the way the incidence of
cancer is increasing?
No one knows.
And no one in authority seems
to want to know.
Maybe they are frightened to discover the
Meanwhile, politicians around the world now drink spring water, at
taxpayers' expense, which is bottled at source before it has too much chance of
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2006
Vernon Coleman's books on this subject include Superbody, Food
for Thought and How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You. All are
available from the bookshop on this website and from good bookshops everywhere.