Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water: Their Impact on Human Health

From the caffeine in a morning cup of coffee to the deet in the insect repellant, these are among the chemicals being detected in waterways. They include pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical’s metabolites, some of which are still biologically active. In a United States Geological Survey (USGS) Reconnaissance study that appeared in the USGS Technical Open-File Report 02-94, it was found that 80 percent of 139 streams sampled contained pharmaceuticals.

These pharmaceuticals were previously thought to have been introduced into the surface water by industrial and agricultural practices. But according to the study's data, an increase in pharmaceutical levels in surface water showed up immediately downstream from wastewater treatment plants that service the general population’s wastewater.

How are Pharmaceuticals Introduced into Wastewater?

When people consume medications, some of the medications are broken down in the body into metabolites. These metabolites enter the surface and groundwater systems through the sewage and also through field runoff (when excreted by animals). The pharmaceuticals are also deposited directly into the sewage system when unused drugs are disposed of.

Some of the un-metabolized drugs commonly found in the wastewater include triclosan (an antimicrobial found in soaps), and sulfamethoxazole (an antibiotic). With the demand for water on the rise in arid regions, municipalities are forced to look for alternative water sources, like reclaiming wastewater.

These reclamation plants according to Stephen A Spano differ from regular wastewater treatment plants by the use of additional processes that are designed to reduce the pharmaceutical concentrations and not completely eliminate them. The reclamation plants provide water for agricultural purposes and water to recharge the groundwater. The reclaimed water ultimately ends up back in the drinking water supply.

Effects of Waste Pharmaceuticals on Human Health

The full extent of the effect of these compounds is still an unknown. The effect of the overexposure of microbes to the antibiotics in the wastewater has been considered as a possible negative effect. In this case the bacteria develop resistance to the antibiotics making the antibiotics ineffective in treating humans.

Another possible effect is the estrogenicity of these products. The estrogenicity of the wastewater has been shown in lab tests of wastewater treatment plants effluents on native fish samples (Environmental Toxicology). In human beings, this estrogenic effect caused by some of the waste products acting as hormone disruptors is suspect in causing problems in the development of the reproductive system.

Treating Wastewater for Pharmaceuticals

Many pharmaceuticals are considered toxic waste by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To regulate a drug manufacturing plant’s wastewater they are given water quality standards before discharging drugs and other chemicals into their wastewater.

These standards are contained within their federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. This monitoring system is designed to controls the amount pharmaceuticals discharged from drug manufacturing plants.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to regulate individual homes wastewater; people rely on the effectiveness of their municipality's wastewater treatment plants to remove the water drugs. These plants are unable to remove all the pharmaceutical compounds.

The drug manufacturing plants are also unable to consistently remove these chemicals from their wastewater and continue to add to the surface water’s pharmaceuticals load.

What Can be done to Help Minimize Pharmaceuticals In Wastewater?

To ensure the safety of drinking water, it is important to get involved in the policy-making process, encouraging policies that protect water quality. Learn how to dispose of unused medications, pesticides, and cleaning products properly.

Any concerns about drinking water should be directed to the local water utility.

Pollutants in Bottled Water

Bottled water is often marketed with images of purity and nature to impart an image of health. Consumers might not realize that the water they are paying a premium for maybe not purer than the water that flows from their kitchen faucet.

Some bottled water comes from municipal water supplies—the same water that you use to cook with or wash your laundry at home—and contain many of the same impurities. Contaminants from the plastics used to bottle water can also leach into the liquid, adding to the chemical load.

Disinfection Byproducts

The Environmental Working Group states that it has found a group of disinfection byproduct chemicals in bottled water it tested from several brands, including Wal-mart’s Sam’s Choice water. One group of chemicals detected is known as trihalomethane.

Chloroform is a trihalomethane listed as a carcinogen by the U.S. Toxicology Panel and California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Chloroform is considered safe at levels of 10 ppb (parts per billion) and tested bottled water had levels as high as 31 ppb. Another group of disinfection chemicals called halocetic acids were also detected by the EWG. These can produce metabolic disturbances and cancer, according to the group. (See reference 1, page 3)


The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health and environmental issues, informs that some bottled water it tested was contaminated with phthalates. Phthalates are synthetic chemicals used to make plastic softer.

They are found in cosmetics, fragrances, and household products. A Reader’s Digest article called “Bottled Water vs. Tap Water” by Janet Majeski Jemmott explains that they have adverse affects on the endocrine system because they block or mimic hormones. This affects normal body functions and might cause male fetuses to have malformed reproductive organs and low sperm count in adults. (See reference 2, page 1)

Bisphenol A

A committee at the National Institutes of Health found that bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, can cause serious health effects. The chemical is found in polycarbonate, which is used to manufacture water cooler jugs and some water bottles.

BPA can contribute to neurological and behavioral problems in children and unborn babies. The female reproductive system, immune system, and brain might also be affected by exposure in adults. Keeping a water bottle in a warm environment can cause more chemicals to leach into the water. Keep your water bottles in a cool environment to reduce your risk of exposure to chemicals such as BPA. 

Preparing Tropical Water Lilies in the Pond For Winter

In the spring and summer, your water lilies grace the pond with the beauty of their leaves and their blooms. Tropical water lilies adore the summertime temperatures. However, as the season turns towards fall and into winter, you need to plan to safeguard the health of these lilies.

What is a Tropical Water Lily?

Tropical water lilies (Nymphea spp) grow in warm parts of the world. They have more exotic colors than the hardy water lilies and come in shades of blue, purple and green as well as red and yellow.

Needs of Tropical Water Lilies

At the summer solstice in June, light levels start to decline. This means that tropical water lilies start to enter into a more dormant state, but very gradually. The heat of summer keeps them alive. When fall comes with its cooler days, it contributes to the need these flowers have to become dormant. If left on the pond during the late fall, the tropical water lilies will die.

Caring for Tropical Water Lilies in the Fall and Winter

Stop fertilizing the water lilies in the middle of September so that they will put more energy into root development than into leaf and flower development.

If you have enough room in your storage area, bring the lily indoors inside its pot. Prune off any very large or damaged leaves. Set up a small pond or aquarium in a warm area of the house and keep the plant in that area until spring comes.

If you do not have a lot of space, remove the water lily and the soil around it. Expose the roots and the tuber. If there are smaller tubers below the plant, remove them gently and place these in moist sand in a container to overwinter. These can become new plants in the spring. Remove leaves from the plant. Put the plant in some moist sand in a jar. The temperature in the room must stay at 60ºF or above.

Even though winter is a dormant season for these tropical water lilies, it is important to change their water or the moist soil so it does not go moldy.

Placing Water Lilies Into the Pond in the Spring

Once outdoor temperatures rise above 60, place the plants in fertilized soil and put them in the pond just below the surface of the water. When the plants begin to grow, plant them where you would like to see them for the season.

Tropical water lilies are a beautiful addition to the spring and summer pond. With proper care, they can also last through the winter season.

Save Water While Washing Dishes: Follow These Tips For Efficient Dish-Washing

Washing dishes is not high on many people's list of pleasurable activities. It is tedious, messy and actually increases the water bill. Many have gone as far as relegating this chore to a machine (a dishwasher). Fortunately, there are ways to make the chore more manageable as well as economical.

Hands Versus Machine

First of all, washing dishes by hand should be the way to go. In this era of increased laziness, washing dishes by hand provides some sort of physical activity and a chance for the mind to concentrate on something else besides what is on the television. Believe it or not, there are people who find the activity actually relaxing because it gives them a chance to let their minds wander. An added benefit is the act of lifting, soaping and rinsing those dirty dishes; they do burn some calories!

Second, washing dishes manually uses less water and electricity. This will translate to lower water and electricity bills, which will be welcomed by everyone.

Those who whine that dish detergent wreaks havoc on their hands and manicures can wear rubber gloves. The rubber gloves also provide added traction so that wet crockery will not slip and break.

Wash Dishes in Groups

Many feel overwhelmed by the sight of dirty plates, pots, pans, glasses, and utensils all piled up in the kitchen sink. This negative feeling usually leads to dread and laziness. However, having a plan and breaking down the dirty items into groups will make the task more manageable and efficient.

How does one decide which items to wash first?

The answer is easy: start with those cleanest, and gradually tackle dirtier items next. Leave the most challenging ones last, so there will be more space in the sink to maneuver.

Washing Dishes Made Easy

Follow these steps to break down the chore of washing dishes. Remember not to let the water run when soaping dishes:

  1. Liquid holders and utensils: they are the cleanest among the dirty, so soap and rinse them all first. This group refers to glasses, wine glasses, mugs, knives, forks, and spoons. Saucers and placemats can also be included in this group since they usually do not get too dirty.
  2. Plates and bowls: next, soap and rinse bigger and dirtier items. This group includes any dish that held food, including each individual diner's plate, soup bowls, salad bowls and the like.
  3. Bigger items requiring more elbow grease: this group includes pots and pans used for cooking. They are usually cruddy and thus need extra scrubbing. By this time, all the other items have been washed already, so there is more space in the sink to do the said scrubbing. This also means that all the good and oil from these dirtiest items will not spoil the others again since they are already cleaned and perched somewhere else.

Do not forget to wash and clean the sink afterward. This will prevent cockroaches from making an appearance in the kitchen.

Science Projects for Kids – Easy Water Experiments

Water exists as a liquid because of the strong attraction that its molecules have for each other – this force of attraction is called cohesion. At the surface of a liquid, the molecules have nothing attracting them from above. Consequently, all of the molecules are pulled or attracted toward the molecules below, causing an invisible film on the surface – this film is called surface tension.

Cohesion and surface tension are just two of the amazing properties of water that can be demonstrated through natural science experiments. Try the following two easy science projects to learn more about water and how it reacts to outside stimuli.

Easy Science Project – Can You Make a Needle Float on Water?

Items Required:

  • Clear drinking glass
  • Water
  • Sewing needle
  • Small piece of newspaper (a little wider and longer than your needle)
  • Toothpick


  1. Fill the drinking glass with water.
  2. Float the small piece of newspaper on top of the water.
  3. Carefully place the sewing needle on top of the paper.
  4. Use the toothpick to slowly push the edges of the paper, and then the entire paper, into the water.
  5. Does the needle float?
  6. Now push the needle with the toothpick.
  7. What happens now?

Observation: If you proceed carefully and slowly enough, you will cause the paper to sink, leaving the needle floating on top of the water. The needle floats on what appears to be a film on the water's surface. When you touch the needle with the toothpick, you cause it to break through the surface of the water, and gravity causes it to sink quickly to the bottom of the glass.

Explanation: Surprisingly, the needle floats, not because of buoyancy, but because of cohesion and surface tension. The surface tension of the water at the top of the drinking glass forms an invisible film that is able to support the needle.

Perform the experiment again after drying the needle thoroughly with a towel, but this time, look carefully at how the needle is resting on the water. You will observe that the surface of the water is bent under the weight of the needle!

Easy Science Project – Can You Keep Water Inside a Holey Bottle?

Items Required:

  • Plastic bottle with a screw-on top
  • Sharp scissors or nail
  • Water
  • Sink
  • An assistant


  1. Carefully use the tip of the scissors or nail to poke a small hole in the bottle's side near the bottom. (Ask an adult to help with this step.)
  2. Place the bottle under the faucet in the sink.
  3. Cover the hole in the side of the bottle with your finger.
  4. Ask your assistant to fill the bottle to the very top with water, leaving no room for air.
  5. Ask your assistant to screw the top onto the bottle.
  6. Move your finger to uncover the hole in the side of the bottle.
  7. What happens?

Observation: After few water escapes from the hole, the water stops leaking out of the bottle.

Explanation: Cohesion and surface tension are two of the forces at work here. Because the hole you made in the bottle is a small one, the water's tendency to cling together (cohesion) is able to form an invisible skin (surface tension) at the site of the hole, helping to keep the water inside.

Other Forces at Work in This Experiment: Air Pressure and Gravity

Because the bottle has been filled to the very top with water and then covered, the upper surface of the water is not affected by air pressure. However, the water at the site of the hole is acted on by the air pressure outside the bottle, which helps to keep the water from leaking out.

Now see what happens when you remove the screw-on top. Because air pressure is now acting on the water's upper surface as well as on the water where the hole is, air pressure is canceled out, and gravity takes over, causing the water to pour out of the hole. Surface tension and air pressure are both weaker forces than gravity, so gravity is the ultimate winner!

Science for Kids – Fun Experiments With Water

Isn't science fun and interesting? Now you know how to make a needle (which is not buoyant...) stay on top of water. You also know how to keep water from leaking out of a bottle with a hole in it – and why the water stays inside until you're ready to let it out.

Science Water Experiment for Kids Creates Invisibility Illusion

Magicians often use basic scientific principles of light and optics to fool the eye and make people believe they can make things disappear or turn invisible. The following elementary science experiment shows how simple light refraction and reflection can cause small objects to apparently vanish.

Educational Materials

  • 1 clear glass or plastic jar with an opaque lid (an empty peanut butter jar or jam jar would be ideal)
  • 1 stamp (or some other flat object, like a sticker) small enough to fit completely under the jar
  • A container of water

Classroom Science Experiment/Kids Magic Trick

  1. Place the stamp on a table. Allow the kids to view the stamp from the side (not from the top down).
  2. Now place the jar over the stamp/sticker, making sure to keep the lid on the jar. The kids should still be able to see the stamp/sticker from an angle.
  3. Lift the jar off of the stamp, unscrew the lid, and fill the jar with water. Put the jar back on the stamp/sticker.
  4. Kids will find that the stamp, which they could clearly see through the jar before, has now apparently vanished!

Light Reflection Science Facts

We see objects when light reflects off of them, allowing our eyes and brain to process an image of the object. When light passes from water to air, however, the light bends (or refracts) because it travels through water at a slower speed than through air. This refraction can create distorted or displaced images of the actual objects.


In the experiment above, light refraction caused the stamp to appear higher near the water’s surface. Because the jar was covered by a lid, however, the audience could not see the reflected image of the stamp, creating the optical illusion that the stamp had vanished. If the kids were able to come closer to the jar and view it from the top down, they would be able to see a distorted image of the stamp through the water.

Discussion Questions

Magic shows aside, can you think of places where light refraction occurs naturally? What kind of optical illusions might it cause? (Consider ponds or lakes where fish can appear to be in different places thanks to light refraction – and consider how this might make it difficult for fishermen, bears, or birds to catch fish).

If this science experiment were done with a different type of jar (glass, plastic, differently shaped etc.)? (If possible, let kids try this experiment/magic trick several times using different jars and various types of objects – such as coins or colored paper – that they can try to make disappear).

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