Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

When our water goes to the treatment plant, it goes through a fairly lengthy process. First, the plant workers add a substance called alum. This is a double sulfate salt and it creates the first step called sedimentation.

Much like when your body clots blood cells together to form a scab, alum pulls contaminates together, forming heavy clots that sink to the bottom of the tank. The now cleaner water goes through layers of sand, gravel, and charcoal to filter it more. Finally, the plant adds chemicals that kill off bacteria.

What you’re left with is relatively clean drinking water. At this point, how great would you say your water quality is? Unfortunately, another threat lurks in the water: dissolved pharmaceuticals.

The idea of drugs in your water is scary. How do they get there? How do they get past the filtration system? Well, when you take a pill, your body absorbs some of the medicine, but it expels whatever it can’t use. The dissolved medicine goes into the sewage system and then into the treatment plants.

Unfortunately, substances can slip through the filtration system, so we’re left with traces of drugs in our tap. We’ve put together a list of some of the most common ones because you deserve to know what’s going into your body.


Carbamazepine is an anticonvulsant. That means it is given to epileptic individuals to prevent seizures. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? There is nothing wrong with having fewer seizures.

Wrong! Anticonvulsants have been linked to lower IQs in children. While that is worth it to prevent seizures, children that are not prone to them should avoid them. Carbamazepine is also not recommended for pregnant women, as it can harm the baby.

It can also affect your bone marrow health and lead to suicidal thoughts. While it is very effective for its intended use, the side effects mean you don’t want this in your drinking water.


Meprobamate is an anti-anxiety drug. Even in its intended demographic, the drug has some serious health issues. It is very addictive and patients that go off the medication too quickly can have fatal withdrawal.

In 2008, Europe actually decided that the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits. Canada stopped its use in 2012. If the risks were too high for people that actually needed it, what harmful effects could it have on the unsuspecting public?


We all know the risks of antibiotics. Overuse leads to resistant bacteria. Many medical professionals have scaled back their use. However, they’re still prevalent. If you’re cautious about using antibiotics when you have an actual infection, you definitely do not want it unwittingly entering your body.

Not only does antibiotic overuse lead to super germs, but it also kills off the good bacteria. That’s why doctors always recommend a probiotic supplement after treatment. However, when we do not know that we are being exposed, we can’t take the steps we need.


Naproxen is a pain reliever. It’s used to treat acute pain, especially with chronic conditions. While it’s normally a safe drug, it is an anti-inflammatory. This comes with a hefty set of risks associated with overuse. Stomach bleeding, liver problems, and kidney failure are just a few of them. Naproxen has also been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sex Hormones

Both testosterone and progesterone were found in drinking water in Chicago. Adding extra hormones into your body without medical supervision can be dangerous.

Testosterone has been linked to a higher risk of blood clots and stroke. Both of these are incredibly dangerous. Especially if you are at high risk already, you should not be ingesting the hormone. On the less dangerous end, testosterone can also cause acne and irritability.

Progesterone, a hormone involved in the menstrual cycle, has its own set of risks. It’s been linked to a higher chance of breast and ovarian cancer, the latter of which is one of the deadliest.


While we’ve named a few with specifically known side effects, they only scratch the surface. Pretty much every medication people take will end up leaving traces in our drinking water. There can be complications with other medicines, issues with pre-existing conditions, or even just harmful outcomes down the road.

As of now, the US government has no protocol for this kind of contamination. There is neither a regulation on acceptable levels nor a requirement to test for drugs.


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