Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink (If You’re Downstream)

Recently, I had a great conversation with the executive director of a facility that processes wastewater. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the scandalous parts of his job. So, I asked, ever find anything unusual in this stuff? Of course he had. Blah, blah, blah, alligators, turtles, et cetera. The usual. Here’s what he’s also found: chemical evidence of illegal drug use. Which only makes sense, right? People are going to take drugs, excrete waste, and their excrement will contain evidence of the habit. Very interesting.

Here’s where the story takes a turn for the disturbing. It’s something I never thought about, and maybe you haven’t, either.

What about prescription drugs? Ever dumped any leftover prescription pills into the toilet? Know anyone that has? How about all the folks who take prescription pills on a daily basis and then use the bathroom? You know who that describes? Literally everyone. Regardless of the manner of entry, the chemical remnants of prescription drug use end up in the water supply.

Here’s the bad news: almost no locality does any pre-treatment for the chemicals in the water supply that would address this issue. Although government agencies are studying these circumstances, there is no published information on the ultimate effect of the consumption of chemical remnants on downstream consumers.  But if we’re taking bets on whether having chemical remnants of prescription and non-prescription drugs in your water supply is a good thing, I’ll take the under on that.

It’s probably just a matter of time before claims are brought against someone for this water supply issue. I say “someone” because it’s not entirely clear who claims could be brought against. It’s foreseeable that an individual would try to sue pharmaceutical companies, but there would be obvious problems with causation, among other issues. It’s also conceivable that a downstream individual or body politic would sue an upstream body in nuisance for the contamination of the water supply. But again, there would seem to be causation problems.

In any event, the immediate priority should be making sure that everyone has clean, safe water to drink.

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