Many people don’t think about their water quality because they live in the first world and trust that the local municipalities take care of everything, and, to be fair, city water does a good job with what they have. However, the guys at the local water treatment plant simply can’t magically transmute things out of your water and make it completely 100% pure. For men, things like birth control and chlorine in your water are especially disconcerting.
Birth Control and Pharmaceuticals
So where does the aspirin you took go after it metabolizes in your body? It gets pissed out. Where does it go from there? Back to the water treatment plant so it can be released back into the environment or, in some cases, recycled into city/irrigation water. However, even after treatment, the pharmaceuticals stay in the water, thus allowing them to continue downstream where they can end in another city’s tap.
Such compounds are not organic contaminants, so treatment measures like chlorine, iodine, ozone, UV light or hydrogen peroxide simply do nothing to remove them. They’re too small for standard filters, and large-scale reverse osmosis treatment – which would reduce them but not remove them completely – is far too expensive for most cities.
Imagine the numbers of women who use birth control, or how many people use heart medication, or antidepressants. All of that remains in the water supply. There has been evidence of fish being feminized by birth control and male frogs producing female-only proteins thanks to hormone imbalances caused by pharmaceutical waste.
The fact is that we know our drugs remain in the water supply. The fact is these drugs harm sensitive species in the natural environment, like fish and amphibians. What isn’t well known, however, is the effect on human beings.
One thing to keep in mind is that, while fish and amphibians are sensitive to these drugs, they also live much shorter lifespans. Their deformations are NOT due to prolonged and continued exposure over an extended lifetime. Humans have a much higher resistance to small doses of these drugs, but we are being exposed to these tiny concentrations over many years, in utero, as babies, and as children. That makes problems for researchers, in that this phenomenon is incredibly hard to study when we’re talking timescales of lifetimes. The only answer they’ve been able to come up with is: “we don’t know.”
Interactions of these small trace drugs in the water supply with other prescriptions and substances like alcohol mean that the question of how harmful these pharmaceutical leftovers are is left as a big question mark.
But if you’re a man who avoids soy and sugar because of the estrogen-mimicking effects, then perhaps you should turn an eye to your tap water as well. Here’s what you need to find out:
- Does your city have regular reports of pharmaceuticals in drinking water? (though such information might be protected under post 9-11 security laws)
- Look at your region. Are you downstream from a major metro area? If so, then you’re drinking trace pharmaceutical waste (most people are).
- Also find out your city “recycles” its sewage into drinkable water, and how much, and where the water goes to. Some cities take sewer water, sanitize it, and use it for irrigation, in which case it doesn’t go back into human mouths (but the contaminated water still heads downstream). Some cities do treat their sewer water back into drinking water if their initial source is too small, in which case you’re drinking higher trace pharmaceuticals.
This is also a growing problem. More women use birth control compared to 20 or 30 years ago. More people are on antidepressants, ADD medication and other mood-altering drugs than they were before. With the increase in diagnosis and prescription, so also increases contamination of water.
One of my fears as a guy who has a BS in psych, as well as a water treatment certification, is that the pharmaceutical waste in the water will cause psychological issues, which causes people to get prescribed more medication, which increases the waste in the water supply, causing more to get put on drugs.
If you think being on a well makes you safe, then you need to consider a few things:
- If you’re around farms, understand that livestock are given antibiotics and growth hormones. All those things get excreted and enter the water tables all the same.
- How deep your well is dug? The deeper it is, the longer it takes surface water to reach the aquifer. We’re talking timescales of hundreds of years for extremely deep wells.
- Where does the ground water flow? If you’re downstream from those farms and cities, then a well still might not protect you.
There are only two relatively safe places to get good drinking water in the United States: Hawaii and Colorado. These two are considered headwater states – states in which 100% of their water source falls as rain or snow inside the state. They are water producers, while every other state gets a fraction of their water second-hand from another state.
So what can you do?
The good news is you don’t have to worry too much about bathing in it, only drinking it.
The bad news is that the only way to remove 100% of all contaminants in water, including pharmaceuticals, are certain methods of distillation. However, doctors tell you not to drink distilled water because it contains no minerals, and will thus leech minerals out of your body. Distillation is usually reserved for people with kidney or other health problems and so it’s likely not a good option for your typical healthy guy.
The only other way is to by a reverse osmosis filter, which uses a permeable membrane to separate contaminants into product water and waste water through a process of, you guessed it, reverse osmosis. It doesn’t remove all contaminants, instead reducing them to ~10% of what they were. 100 TDS (total dissolved solids) is turned into 10, depending on the brand of RO. I’m not a sellout so I have no particular brand to recommend.
In my opinion, guys on the east coast, west coast, and southeastern US have more to be concerned about because of the sheer amount of rivers, lakes and creeks channeling agricultural runoff and city waste downstream, but do your research beforehand to know what you’re getting into, or if it’s even a concern for you.
But there is another water treatment concern that affects everyone and, in my opinion, more of an issue. Fortunately it’s easier to treat.
Chlorine is the preferred method in the United States for killing and/or neutralizing all sorts of nasty microbes. It’s incredibly affective at doing so, and in the vast majority of cases it’s more beneficial to drink and bathe in chlorinated water than non-sanitized water. Most cities keep their concentrations low enough so that it cannot be smelled or tasted, though other cities can have concentrations as high as a swimming pool.
The negative health effects of chlorine usually involve irritation of skin, eyes and lungs, but again that’s for higher concentrations and usually a concern for swimmers.
The problem, as with the pharmaceuticals above, is the question of low, constant exposure to chlorine. Low doses of chlorine don’t cause irritation unless you’re particularly sensitive, but, and this is important for guys, it can cause heart problems.
When dairy farmers first started using chlorine as a way to sanitize their pales and milk pumps, they found that, after a chlorine flush, a yellow film would be left behind along the walls of the pipes. After examination, it was found that chlorine caused the fat in the milk to congeal, and it is the same reason why those farmers instead use hydrogen peroxide today.
Not only does this affect pipes and pumps, but it also affects the natural (and sometimes unnatural) cholesterol, or fat, in body’s internal pipelines: veins and arteries.
To put it simply, chlorine is enters our bodies mostly through skin absorption it in the shower, for a single shower causes more chlorine to enter your body than any amount you could drink. Chlorine than causes the natural cholesterol in our circulatory system to slowly congeal, causing arterial plaques, leading to heart disease.
The US is big on chlorination, and simultaneously big on heart disease. Through there are many other factors leading to America’s epidemic of heart disease, chlorine is not off the hook.
“A physician team led by William F. Enos autopsied 300 GIs who had died in battle in the Korean War. These men, who had passed induction examination as healthy, averaged 22.1 years of age. To their shock and amazement, in 77 percent of the 300 the pathologists found “gross evidence of arteriosclerosis in the coronary arteries.” In several, one or more heart arteries were partly or completely occluded.
The water that the American soldiers had to drink in Korea was so heavily chlorinated that many could hardly tolerate it. In Vietnam, too, autopsies of American solders found heart artery damage. Again, water supplied to them had been heavily chlorinated. Did much of the soldiers’ arterial damage develop not gradually but quickly as in Dr. Price’s cockerels? The truth–slow or rapid development of clogging–may never be known. Interestingly, from 1950 to 1965 while heart attacks increased, on a population level arterial lesions did not increase; the major growth was in clotting.”
It’s a cliche to say X causes cancer, but, might as well cross this box off as well.
“Studies in Belgium have related development of deadly malignant melanoma to consumption of chlorinated water. Drinking and swimming in chlorinated water can cause melanoma. Sodium hypochlorite, used in chlorination of water for swimming pools, is mutagenic in the Ames test and other mutagenicity tests. Redheads and blonds are disproportionately melanoma-prone; their skin contains a relative excess of pheomelanins compared to darker people. Franz Rampen of the Netherlands reports worldwide pollution of rivers and oceans and chlorination of swimming pool water have led to an increase in melanoma.
Long-term risks of consuming chlorinated water include excessive free radical formation, which accelerates aging, increases vulnerability to genetic mutation and cancer development, hinders cholesterol metabolism, and promotes hardening of arteries.”
Why does the US use chlorine? Because we have tons of it and nothing better to do with it, and it makes a good sanitizer. Other countries use hydrogen peroxide, like if you’re in Europe, or ozone.
So be smart. You can get a chlorine test from any pool supply store and see for yourself. Concentrations of chlorine at or under .5 ppm are negligible (in my own personal opinion). You can either take it or leave it, or simply get an activated-carbon showerhead to take it out. However, if you’re above 1.0 ppm chlorine, and I have seen concentrations as high as 3.0 ppm coming out of a city tap (and that’s swimming pool levels), then you really ought to consider installing a household dechlorinator.
Dechlorinators are basically giant charcoal filters filled with granulated carbon, and they come in a variety of types. Large tanks last longer, about 2-10 years depending on chlorine levels, water consumption, and brand – and you must always take the brand’s specifications into account. I’ve seen lessor brands only reduce chlorine by half and need a bedding change every two years, while others will neutralize it to undetectable levels and need a bedding change every ten years. Dechlorinators are relatively cheap already, so splurging for a good brand isn’t a bad investment.
Alternatively, you can get showerhead dechlorinators from your local hippie vitamin shop, but their concentrations of carbon are small and the short exposure time for neutralization to take place means they only reduce, not eliminate, chlorine, and need frequent changing when the carbon is used up. So, if you’ve got the room and you own your home, go for a whole house dechlorinator.
Much of my advice will depend on you doing some legwork to test your own water and do your own research, but it is something I highly recommend. I knew nothing about water treatment and cared not to, at least until I got a job in the industry. After learning a bit more, I’ve come to realize that water quality is a huge issue for municipalities and the EPA. In a few years, water rights will become a larger issue as demand increases and city budgets wane. It is then up to you, the consumer, to take the initiative and follow some measures for yourself.