March 10, 2008

The drugs people take — antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones — are in your drinking water.

A new study shows. How did they get there, you ask?
People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.
This is so upsetting. Not just the drugs, but facing up to the reality that the water we drink has been pissed before. I know when we breathe, we're always breathing molecules that everyone in the history of the world has exhaled from their wet, spongy lungs. But is it not also the case that every molecule of water we drink has been pissed before — many, many times?

43 comments:

Trooper York said...

Once again, the strange fascination
with urine rears it's ugly head.
So to speak.

Tselin said...

there was a study on the Thames River in the UK. The findings were, IIRC, that in general it was possible for the same water molecules to pass through 7 different individuals as it traveled down the river.

rhhardin said...

You can always use drinking water for washing.

MadisonMan said...

People should stop flushing their pills (Doctors would stop telling them to) and incinerate them instead.

You can always rig up a distillery and distill all your water. Be careful how you wash the dishes though -- that's a source of chemical contamination too.

titusinfirstposition said...

One time a guy asked me to piss on him for 100.00.

I was broke so I did it.

I draw the line on shitting on someone though.

former law student said...

MM: Although some people may flush pills down their toilets, I think the problem is people who have been prescribed higher dosages than their bodies can absorb, and are simply urinating away the excess.

Looking on the bright side, at least we don't have to pay for adderal any more.

Tibore said...

You've heard of the Ceasar's last breath calculation, right?

bearbee said...

but facing up to the reality that the water we drink has been pissed before

What.....you never thought of this before? Consider all the non-human critters swimming, eating and pooping into water that is filtered into homes.

Several years ago I mentioned concern over drugs getting into drinking water and got crazy-person looks.

With 6 billion people and growing, in the 21 century potable water is increasingly a precious resource.

Consider the Georgia, Alabama, Florida water war.

Turn off the water when brushing teeth.

Ann Althouse said...

Tibore: I linked to that in the post. It's in the book "Innumeracy." I've thought about it a lot. The question is, what are the chances that a molecule of Caesar's last piss is in my glass of water.

TMink said...

That does not bother me as much as what a philosopher from olden days said about our source of liquids.

"Don't drink the water. Fish f*ck in it." - W.C. Fields.

Smart man.

Trey

Hoosier Daddy said...

And everyone thought General Jack Ripper was crazy.

He knew what was happening to our precious bodily fluids.

Frank E. said...

This is so upsetting. Not just the drugs, but facing up to the reality that the water we drink has been pissed before.

What did you think, professor? That your piss somehow magically left the universe forever and that ever drop of drinking water was somehow "new"?!

I guess you took a vow of scientific illiteracy that you never mentioned.

Ann Althouse said...

bearbee said..."What.....you never thought of this before? Consider all the non-human critters swimming, eating and pooping into water that is filtered into homes."

My point isn't that the water has been pissed in, but that the water has been piss. This is true and possibly upsetting even if it has been perfectly cleaned of all imperfections. The molecules you drink have been part of the body of — if the recycling is as powerful as with air — everyone who has ever lived. That's something very different from whales shitting in the ocean!

titusinfirstposition said...

I want to redact my last comment.

I would shit on someone for $100,000.

MadisonMan said...

The question is, what are the chances that a molecule of Caesar's last piss is in my glass of water.

The link tibore gave also says that molecules from a cup of water thrown into the ocean will after some time show up in any cup of water drawn out of the ocean.

I don't know, but I think the number of molecules of water in the ocean/atmosphere is far greater than the number of oxygen/nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere. So the chances of drinking Caesar's piss are smaller than breathing his dying breath. If chemistry were closer to me than 30 years in the past, I'd compute the value.

titusinfirstposition said...

Have you guys heard of the new 7 deadly sins that the vatican added?

evansparks said...

As Bill Nye the Science Guy used to say: "Water: it's dinosaur spit!"

dbp said...

"The question is, what are the chances that a molecule of Caesar's last piss is in my glass of water."

I'm not sure the exact chances, but it is at least lower than the air example; here is why.

1. There is a lot more--like around 500 times more mass of water on the earth than atmosphere.

2. This is partially--but in my estimate--not completly counteracted by differences in the mass of a breath v. a piss. A breath weighs about one gram while a urination is a lot more, it probably wasn't 500 ml for Caeser's last--unless he was drinking a lot of beer before he got stabbed.

Ann Althouse said...

Frank e quotes me saying "Not just the drugs, but facing up to the reality that the water we drink has been pissed before" and says "What did you think, professor? That your piss somehow magically left the universe forever and that ever drop of drinking water was somehow "new"?!"

Frank, you are speaking to me in an inappropriately disrespectful tone, so I will give you a taste of your own toilet-flushable medicine: You don't seem to understand the difference between "facing up to the reality" of something and simply knowing it. For example, you know that some day you will die, but how often do you face up to the reality of it? If you don't experience the stark horror or mind-boggling bizarreness of it, that doesn't mean you think you're immortal.

Read very carefully, Frank, before you dare to write in terms of disrespect.

bearbee said...

The molecules you drink have been part of the body of — if the recycling is as powerful as with air — everyone who has ever lived. That's something very different from whales shitting in the ocean!

Everyone or everything who/which has ever lived.

Everything is a part of everything else. Ultimately it is all one.

I have spoken.......

Middle Class Guy said...

This stuff ususally comes out a few times a year. If we recycle water, what do we think we are drinking?

Humans, animals, and mother nature have been dumping harful stuf in the water systems for millenia. Now the stuff is potentially more harmful.

Solution- come up with better chemical treatments of water or live with it.

Theo Boehm said...

Everything in the universe has been around a very long time and has been part of something else many times.  The atoms that go into the water that's been pissed in, were part of stars once, or, in the case of hydrogen, perhaps primordial matter going back almost to the origins of the universe.  Most probably, however, the hydrogen was expelled in a supernova explosion along with a lot of the rest of the stuff that made our solar system.  The reality is that practically every physical thing has been through many transfigurations.  Matter/energy is immutable, but its forms are not.

It may be disconcerting to our naturally solipsistic outlook, but we are juicily connected with everything that happens on our planet.  The fact that molecules leak from person to person may seem unpleasant, but should not be a surprise.  We may be the stuff as dreams are made of, but we are also leaky bags of weird chemistry.

An old principle central to understanding the biological environment is that you cannot do just one thing.

We want elaborate chemical cures for disease?  Do the medicines break down naturally, either in the body or soon after their release?  If they don't, well, they're going somewhere.  Maybe you don't need some estrogen analog with your cornflakes for breakfast, but you're getting it—along with growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide residues.

For those who would return to some pristine, organic past, you might want to remember those wonderful microbes that used to kill half the human race before it reached 5 years of age, not to mention every other horror of disease that welcomed and bade farewell to our lives for nine-tenths of our existence.

So, we cannot abandon science for some pristine cloud cuckoo land of organic perfection.  But we damned well should, sooner than later, get a handle on stuff we're spewing, because it's not only about the Environment as something out there, but about the subtle ways we might be poisoning ourselves every day.

As an admitted pessimist, I worry that many of the things our technological civilization are doing to us will be, in the long run, more harmful to our survival than any sport the four horsemen may have made with us in our long history getting here.  The precipitous drop in male fertility and the soaring rates of autism in industrialized countries, to take a couple of well-known examples, may be warning signs of worse to come.

Are we fouling our nests subtly and slowly?  In my opinion, if we are looking for environmental issues to worry about, the global warming scare is just that: A concern and something to start working against, but essentially a political scare tactic.  We as a species and the biological world as a whole could survive global warming perhaps changed, but intact, thank you.

What we might not survive is the genetic and other damage done by the widespread release of novel and unnatural organic compounds into the environment.  Our technology has done this in spades, and the public is just beginning to realize the implications, even if scientists have been concerned for decades.

The political and technical problems of regulating and dealing with all the novelties of chemistry are boggling. Obviously a lot has been done, but new compounds are being formulated and released every day, and it is going to take a tremendous effort and better regulation to understand and prevent much more than just piss winding up in our glass of water or Caesar's last breath coming through the air conditioner.

George said...

Bacon is good for you….Cigarettes become
'torches of freedom' when smoked by women….Inexpensive bananas are the best bananas…..Ballet is okay….Dixie Cups are the only sanitary disposable cup….Fluoride in water is safe and beneficial.

If you believe (or once believed) any or all of the above to be true, you can thank the father of spin, the prince of puff, the baron of ballyhood, the inventor of PR, Edward Bernays. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, he literally wrote the book on propaganda called Propaganda.

When fluoridated water was proposed by [classified] after WWII, elected officials and referenda across the country rejected it. Bernays was hired by [classified], and—as if by magic—as everyone knows, the only people who oppose fluoridation are ultra right wing fanatics, convicted felons, food nuts, and the Ku Klux Klan. Everyone knows fluoride is good. There is no question that fluoridated water is safe and beneficial. Everyone knows this. Everyone.

How did fluoride get in water? It is a long weird story, possibly involving lots and lots of lawsuits against [classified] and various [redacted] regarding [text missing] caused by [classified] which meant that [404 unable to communicate with server]. Suffice it to say, Bernays hired paid “experts” such as doctors, historians, and scientists to support the correct views in the mass media, and it didn’t hurt that he was a friend of [water damage, text destroyed].

It’s always struck me as peculiar that Whole Foods-type folks are obsessed with pesticide residue on canteloupe, but no one raises a peep about water.

PS--Hoosier Daddy....the POE obssession of Ripper's referred to fluoridation....

PPS--Professor...."Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end." Hamlet IV, iii

chuck b. said...

We often visit a particular hot springs where the water bubbles up from 5 miles underground. It's been down there for millions of years.

Water isn't water forever. With carbon dioxide, plants convert it to cellulose. Some of the water molecules taken in by the roots of Pinus longaeva trees in the Great Basin haven't been seen from (as water) in thousands of years. Caesar died in Rome, where no trees are that old of course.

Countless bacteria and fungi and other microscopic life in every gram of soil routinely split water molecules to transfer the oxygen atom to some metabolic substrate or other. When those organisms die, other organisms eat them, and so on. It's not unreasonable to imagine that some of Caesar's last piss has never left the chain of life.

Rich B said...

Early in the article, the AP reported the following:

"To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs _ and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen _ in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health."

Number one, the quantities of such substances are miniscule. This kind of study exists only because it is technically possible to measure unimaginably small quantities.

Second, they resort to the "heightening worries" of some scientists, to create a fear that does not have to be proven.

Humankind has survived and does survive far greater impurities in its drinking water and environment. In the heyday of the horse, cities were digusting.

Trooper York said...

This is precisely why you should never drink water.

MadisonMan said...

The obvious solution is to drink water that is melted from ice cores drilled out of the Antarctic Ice cover. Once you get about a half-mile down: pure, primordial water!

It's a little pricey, sure, but aren't you willing to pay more for your family's safety?

Original Mike said...

Ann, I think you're confusing molecules with atoms. Molecules disassociate. Atoms are "forever" (well, most atoms, anyway).

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't get the primordial water gig. It is likely more pure if freshly caught from the rain. All that gunk in the water supply is left behind when water evaporates and then comes back down as rain or snow. So, ultimately, the gunk flows to the ocean, but luckily for those living in the oceans, the oceans are very large.

Bruce Hayden said...

It really isn't that hard to find water that hasn't been through others this time around - just move closer to the source. It is just living downstream that is a problem. And, another advantage, the skiing is much better.

Michael_H said...

Squeamish about the history of your drinking water? Don't drink the water in Milwaukee (or its close-in suburbs).

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District annually dumps billions (no exaggeration) of gallons of raw, untreated sewage into Lake Michigan during periods of heavy rain.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Water System, pumps that same water through filtration plants and into the Milwaukee water system. Yumbo!

In recent times, cryptosporidium that made its way through the filtration system sickened up to 400,000 Milwaukeeans in one summer.

Local and state politicians wring their hands, and do nothing, year after year after year.

But if you are walking your pooch along the shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, and the police see your dog poop near the water, all hell breaks loose and you pay a huge fine.

bearbee said...

.. wring their hands, and do nothing, year after year after year.

Isn't that a requisite?

john said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

Is it hard to think of a water molecule that hasn't been tainted from "reuse" - that the water molecule can actually carry a memory of its history? Original Mike is correct - water molecules disassociate regularly, reform in a variety of ways. Reused or "contaminated water" does not mean that the water molecule has been physically altered, only that it might harbor molecules of other substances.

In one sense we have been drinking reused water nearly for ever, and in another sense every time we drink it is new water.

Pharmaceuticals in water may be another issue, and then again it may not be. Our analytical capabilities can now detect some of these compounds in water at the part per quadrillion level. The homeopathics among us conclude that less than a single molecule can affect us, but saner people have long doubted that such low concentrations are harmful. After all, anyone in close proximity to common non prescription or prescription drugs will inhale many times greater amounts than what has been found in water.

former law student said...

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District annually dumps billions (no exaggeration) of gallons of raw, untreated sewage into Lake Michigan during periods of heavy rain.

What's even worse: The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District used to remove water from its sewage, bag it, and sell it as fertilizer (Milorganite) to credulous FIBs, heavy metals and all.

Adam2Smith said...

Urine consists of water plus other stuff. There is no way, even in principle, to tell that a water molecule has once been a part of a urine stream, even if you are a lawyer.

Mr. Forward said...

"All day I face the barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water, cool, clear, water.

The shadows sway and seem to say
Tonight we pray for water, cool, water
And way up there He'll hear our prayer
And show us where there's water, cool, clear, water"

Sons of the Pioneers

Ralph said...

"Don't drink the water. Fish f*ck in it." - W.C. Fields.
When I was a little kid, someone gave my parents a book of funny quotations that included this one spelt out. It took me years to understand it. Today, I had to face up to the reality that Fields lied, and fish don't actually fuck.

John Donne said...

Yo, did you think I was just screwing around?

blake said...

Actually, george, some people in that "Whole Food crowd" do peep about water.

Not so much about the presence of drugs as the presence of chlorine, tho'.

Shane said...

If you are in the grip of erectile dysfunction, you can treat the disorder effectively by taking the anti-impotence drug Levitra in accordance with the doctor’s instructions but it is altogether a fallacy to assume that Levitra is capable of providing you immediate erections. Get in touch with the website http://www.levitrabliss.com and you would get to know that after taking Levitra, the medicine for treating erectile dysfunction, you need to be sexually stimulated to achieve erections necessary for satisfactory sexual intercourse.

DrJohn said...

Active peptic ulcer. Sildenafil is a potent and selective inhibitor of cGMP specific phosphodiesterase type 5, an enzyme that regulates blood flow in buy viagra online the penis. Use with caution in Elderly people. This includes

Nisha Jackson said...

Good discuss on yourNatural Mood Stabilizers blog.. thanks