The importance of water is unquestionable: It is essential to the survival of all of the Earth's inhabitants, and yet we waste it. And, according to environmentalist Simran Sethi, it is our negligence that has resulted in the traces of pharmaceuticals being found in our water supply.

In March 2008, the Associated Press released the results of a five-month inquiry. Pharmaceuticals were detected in the drinking-water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, from Southern California to northern New Jersey to Detroit to Louisville, affecting more than 41 million Americans. The New York State Health Department and the U.S. Geological Survey have tested the source of the New York City's water and found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, and tranquilizers. A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water. Antiepileptic and antianxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California. High levels of caffeine were found in Seattle drinking water.

So how are these medications getting into our water supply? Anything you put into your body is going to be released when you go to the bathroom. Basically, when you flush it down, it comes back around. And it doesn't just impact us; it also impacts wildlife. Last year, male fish started hatching eggs in the Potomac River, a water source for the Washington, D.C., area. Scientists have yet to determine how these trace amounts of pharmaceuticals affect humans.

Medication is found in bottled water, too. Why? Because 40 percent of bottled water comes from municipal sources, which means it is basically tap water, and most companies don't test for these trace substances.

Simran suggests investing in a good water filter -- she uses the Doulton Countertop Ceramic Filter. You can also use a jug like PUR or Brita, with a carbon filter, but remember that it will not filter out everything. Nothing will.

Tips for Healthier Water

There are some things we can all do to help this situation.

1. Do not throw away or flush your medications -- they can end up in our water supply or leach into landfills.

2. See if your town has a drug-recycling program to dispose of medications; this can also help get medicine to low-income people who need them.

3. Call a local waste-management office and ask about their disposal procedures.

4. Go to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has list of hazardous waste disposal resources.

5. Use a reusable water bottle to help keep other toxins from ending up in our water. But stay away from hard plastic bottles; studies show they contain polycarbonate, a known endocrine disruptor. When plastic breaks down, it photodegrades into smaller pieces, which never go away, and it absorbs other toxins like PCBs when it breaks down. Also, most plastics are made from petroleum -- a finite resource. Look for stainless steel or lined aluminum containers for water.

Saving Water in the Home

There are also a few important things we can all do to save water in our homes.

1. Get a water aerator, which is basically a system that mixes air into the water stream, for your sink.

2. Install low-flow shower heads in your showers, like the Delta H2O Kinetic, and regularly check for leaks. If you have a leak you don't know about, you could be wasting more than 1 or 2 gallons of water a day.

3. Take the time to think about how you are using water. When you're brushing your teeth, does the water need to be running the entire time? Can you water your houseplants with the pasta water you're not using? There are areas all over the world that face tremendous droughts -- we need to think about our water consumption habits.


Special thanks to journalist Simran Sethi, host of Sundance Channel's "The Green," for sharing this valuable information. For more information on the show, and Simran's environmentally focused webcasts, "The Good Fight," visit Special thanks to SIGG for giving reusable water bottles to our studio audience. Water aerators and low-flow shower heads are available at most hardware stores.

Comments (6)

Martha Stewart Member
June 25, 2010
Personally I think this is very common, when they get away with it just one time they will keep on doing it. Throwing away medical waste into our water supply will have some type of long term affects on us as a community if it already hasn?
Martha Stewart Member
April 28, 2008
Both Nalgene bottles have # 7 on them. How long have you known about the BPA in plastic bottles?
Martha Stewart Member
April 28, 2008
I just bought a Brita Pitcher Water Filtration System. It came with two Bonus Nalgene plastic water bottles. They both have made in the USA
Martha Stewart Member
April 25, 2008
Is the leaching of Bisphenol A limited to liquids? I noticed that plastic baby food containers are also labeled #7, Are these leaching as well?
Martha Stewart Member
April 24, 2008
I've read that Sigg bottles don't leach BPA even after a few years of use.
Martha Stewart Member
April 23, 2008
BPA is used in lining Sigg bottles.