Is Your Water on Drugs?

By Lisa Marshall

The ancient mariner’s lament gained new relevance recently when a five-month Associated Press investigation revealed traces of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of 41 million Americans. Antidepressants, sex hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs contaminated water in 24 metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC—after passing through the body and treatment plants unequipped to filter them out. (The federal government doesn’t require testing for drugs in water, nor does it set limits.) Although the concentrations are “tiny,” no one knows the long-term effects of sipping even a very weak pharmaceutical cocktail year after year.

Tempted to switch to bottled? Think again. Roughly 40 percent contains repackaged tap water, and that industry doesn’t test for drugs either, says Mark DiMassimo of, which campaigns against wasteful bottles.

So what’s a thirsty consumer to do? Buy a filter—nanofiltration and reverse-osmosis systems have been shown to remove several drugs—and never leave home without your stainless steel or safe plastic bottle.