The opioid epidemic is bigger than you think.
It now extends to… shellfish.
Researchers have recently found traces of oxycodone – along with a whole bunch of other drugs — in Puget Sound bay mussels.
Scientists have pinned the blame for these medicated mollusks on drugged water coming from wastewater treatment plants.
But this isn’t a freak occurrence by any means.
A wide variety of meds, ranging from hormones (which come from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy) to antibiotics to antidepressants and painkillers, are being flushed and discharged into water all over the U.S. And that water is eventually dumped not only into the oceans and inlets such as Puget Sound, but also into rivers, lakes, and reservoirs – which is how it ultimately ends up flowing from your tap.
And yes, it is treated at both ends of that process with different filtering methods and chemical disinfectants such as chlorine. However, as the lead author for this current study commented, wastewater treatment plants were designed to “reduce solids and reduce bacteria,” not “complex compounds” such as drugs.
There’s no doubt that the drug crisis has moved out of the medicine cabinet and into our waterways and water supply.
Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to keep yourself and your family as protected as possible from this invisible threat.
Drugs from the deep
Over a decade ago, an investigation by the Associated Press discovered that hormones, antibiotics, OTC products such as acetaminophen, and a slew of other meds were found in the drinking water of 24 major U.S. cities, extending all the way from southern California to north Jersey.
That study also revealed that water suppliers do, in fact, routinely screen for drugs — they just don’t make a habit of telling us what they discover.
As one official said, such information would frighten the general public, and we wouldn’t know how to “interpret” those finding anyway.
Well, here’s one way to interpret them – don’t expect to turn on your tap and receive pure, safe drinking water!
These drugs can end up in our drinking water as a result of unused meds or residues contained in urine being flushed down the toilet – and typical wastewater sterilization methods don’t remove them.
Just recently, it was discovered that wastewater treatment plants that accept discharges from drugmakers are being flooded with humungous amounts of Rx medications.
Further complicating the issue are the states that are considering legislation to allow what’s called “toilet to tap.” That would take wastewater to a new type of treatment plant to make it “safe” enough to drink, or the “dirty” water would be pumped into an aquifer to be naturally cleaned.
Of course, if you ask your local water authority if your drinking water is safe, no doubt you’ll be given that old “don’t worry” line. We’re typically told that since testing methods have gotten so sophisticated, we can now detect levels of substances so minute as to be of no consequence.
To that I say “baloney!”
What we don’t know about how low levels of hormones, opioids, and antibiotics can harm us – and especially our kids and grandkids – could fill a book.
We also know that when treated with chlorine, some drugs (acetaminophen being one) can form more toxic compounds. Yikes!
And since redesigning water facilities to clean the tap of medications would take, as one expert put it, a “massive investment,” the chances are good that nothing is going to happen any time soon… if ever.
There are some steps you can take, however, to remove many (but not all) of the pharmaceuticals that may be in your drinking water.
One effective method is a reverse-osmosis filter, which can run you from a few hundred dollars for a unit at your tap to several thousand to filter all of the water in your home.
Activated charcoal filters, which are cheaper, may also be helpful, but they aren’t quite as effective as reverse osmosis.
Also, if your water comes from a well, that doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. Well water is also subject to contamination and should be tested for bacteria, chemicals, drugs, and pesticides.
And, of course, never flush drugs down the toilet! Call your local health department or police station and ask where you can safely dispose of unwanted meds. Most every town has a secure drop-box location.
“Traces of opioids found in Seattle-area mussels” Vanessa Romo, May 25, 2018, NPR, npr.org