Have a headache? The solution may be easier than one thinks. Take a drink of municipal water.

Drinking water(68327)Credit: public domain

Contaminated Water

During the past few years, studies have revealed unwanted additives in the drinking water supply. These include recreational drugs, hormones and pharmaceuticals. These components are not only in municipal water, but also in some bottled water as these contaminants seep into rivers and lakes.

When a person takes medicine, the body doesn’t absorb it all, leaving traces to go into the sewer with urine and fecal matter. The excess goes into the water system and into waste water plants where it is purified and recycled. Of course, fresh water mixed with in it highly dilutes the residual pharmaceuticals.

These chemicals range from painkillers, birth control pills, hormones, chemotherapy drugs and seizure medication to illegal drugs. Some of the source is unneeded or unused medicines flushed down the toilet.

Runoff into streams and ground supply is also a problem. Contaminates such as jet fuel and other chemicals can runoff and enter the water supply.

Umea University Study

The Umea University in Sweden conducted a study to be published in Science Magazine with Perch. They exposed the fish to concentrations of Oxazepam at levels found in streams. The exposed fish ate faster, their social behaviour changed, they were less social and became bolder than unexposed perch. The experiment was conducted with low concentrations of Oxazepam, but it's thought that the changes would occur at lower concentrations.

When researachers tested muscle tissue, they found traces of the drug. This result is comporable to measurements found in wild animals. These drugs are passsed on to anything that eats the fish.


Monitoring wildlife may be a good way to keep track of the problem. British research has found that the female sex hormone estrogen has deformed fish reproductive systems, and found female egg protein in male blood plasma. The same findings are in American streams downstream from municipal treatment plants.

Traces of illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin enter the supply in the same way. As with legal drugs, the traces are more concentrated in populated areas.


Another source of contamination is through farming. Cattle and other meat sources use food supplies high in hormones to promote quick growth. The animals flush traces into the ground water with their urine. After eating the meat, humans absorb some of the hormone, and flush traces of the rest into the water supply.


Research has found that areas with older people contain higher concentrations of medicines in the water. These are beta-blockers, anti-coagulants, high blood pressure and other medicines taken by the elderly to treat a variety of illness and ailments.


The concentrations of these drugs are minute, but strong enough to effect the population. Water treatment plants are set up to remove minerals and particles from the water, and purify it to kill bacteria. Testing isn’t done for most of these medical type contaminants. If the concentrations become stronger or widespread, methods for testing and neutralization of these contaminants will have to be developed.

The effects of this type of water contamination aren’t completely known, but there are some indications. For example, there are cases of males developing abnormally large breasts because of female hormones in the water system, and girls reaching puberty at younger ages than in previous generations. Solutions for this form of water additives will have to be considered and proposed.