What's on tap? Pharma in the water

Don't drink the water? Prescription drugs are in the water supply of more than two dozen cities, according to an Associated Press investigation that's sure to catch a lot of attention over the next few days. The drugs--including high-powered antibiotics, epilepsy meds, even hormone-replacement therapies--were found in trace amounts in cities across the country. And those cities where drugs weren't found? The vast majority of them don't test. Likewise, the cities where only a few drugs were found may not screen for as many as those that uncovered a wide variety of meds.

Here's a sampling of the cities and the meds found in each:

  • Philadelphia: found 56 drugs or byproducts including pain meds, cholesterol drugs, asthma treatments, heart drugs, and psychiatric meds.
  • San Francisco: found estriadol, the hormone therapy linked to increased rates of breast cancer.
  • Columbus, OH: found five drugs, including the antibiotics azithromycin, roxithromycin, and virginiamycin, plus tylosin and caffeine.
  • Tucson: found three, including the anxiety med carbamazepine and the sulfa med sulfamethoxazole.

Whether these drugs in amounts this tiny affect human beings isn't known. But scientists worry that long-term exposure could change human cells as they've caused shifts in other species. Some male fish, for instance, have begun to show signs of feminization. And even pharma scientists say--as Merck environmental technology director Mary Buzby did last summer--that "there is genuine concern that these compounds, the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."

By the way, forget bottled water as a remedy. Much of it is simply tap water repackaged--and not tested for drug traces along the way.

- here the full city list
- see the investigation and interactive map at CNN
- check out the skeptics' view at DrugWonks