Pharmaceuticals in the Water Supply: Is this a threat?

Recent studies by the United States Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Protection Agency found numerous instances of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. According to the GAO, a “study focused on untreated source water used by public drinking water systems” found that 53 of 74 sites tested had at least one pharmaceutical present, and in 2010 the EPA showed that 54 active pharmaceutical ingredients and 10 metabolites, the product of biological changes to a chemical, had been found in treated drinking water.

Pharmaceuticals can enter the water supply in a variety of ways. Debates continue over how dangerous this is. Source: GAO

Pharmaceuticals can enter the water supply in a variety of ways. Debates continue over how dangerous this is. Source: GAO

An earlier study from 2005 by the EPA and the Geographical Survey states that 40% of water was contaminated with nonprescription pharmaceuticals, and it has been reported that of the 8 of the 12 most commonly occurring chemicals in drinking water are estrogenic hormones. Read more

The Clean Water Act of 1972

As the 20th century progressed, more and more metropolitan areas in the world found it necessary to install water treatment plants in order to provide clean, healthy water to their residents. It became a general principle in the developed world that every person had the right to clean, pure water. There was no universal standard or definition for clean, pure water. Many city officials, as they noted the disinfecting power of chlorine, believed that providing disinfected, yet untreated, water to city residents was their only responsibility.


Environmental concerns rose in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s that would greatly affect the definition of clean, pure water and the responsibility of the government to provide such water. In the early 1970s, environmental lobbyists in the United States began to see results in their fight for the environment. Read more

The Use of Chlorine to Purify Water

As municipal water treatment facilities sought to increase the quality and healthfulness of public water supplies, more and more cities began to implement chlorine into their water treatment process. Chlorine was first recognized as a valuable chemical in treating water when John Snow used it to purify the cholera-causing water of the Broad Street Pump. Noting the disinfecting nature of chlorine and its ability to curb cholera deaths, government officials in Great Britain began to chlorinate the public drinking water. This application of chlorine resulted in a sharp decline in deaths from typhoid, as well (Christman, 1998).


After the tremendous success of drinking water chlorination in England, chlorination began in New Jersey and soon spread through the entire United States. Chlorination of drinking water, combined with the use of sand water filters resulted in the virtual elimination of such waterborne diseases as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. In fact, chlorine was so effective at eliminating the outbreak and spread of waterborne diseases that Life magazine named water chlorination as “probably the most significant public health advance of the millennium” (Christman, 1998). Read more

The Effect of the Scottish Enlightenment on Water Filter Technology

It is no coincidence that the first municipal water treatment plant was designed and installed in Scotland. Many of the greatest philosophers and scientists of the eighteenth century hailed from Scotland. Historians typically term the period between 1740 and 1800 the Scottish Enlightenment because of the outpouring of scientific thought from Scotland. Water-Filter-Technology

After the Act of Union of 1707, which joined Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England under the inclusive union of Great Britain, Scotland, traditionally known as one of the most backward nations in Europe, joined in the general fervor and scientific discovery of the Enlightenment (Buchan, 2003). In this period, David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and historian, outlined the tenets of the modern-day scientific method, and Adam Smith, the famous British economist, published his revolutionary economic theory that is the foundation of modern-day, free-trade economics. Read more

The Advent of Municipal Water Treatment

Long before Snow linked cholera deaths to poor water quality, people were beginning to suggest that pure water be provided to every household through some sort of citywide water filtration. The supposition that every person deserved clean water to drink and bathe in was related to the general philosophical themes of the Enlightenment period in Europe.


During the Age of Enlightenment of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, philosophers ruminated over the natural rights of all humanity. The right to clean, pure water began to be associated with these innate rights of all humanity. Such philosophical discussions led the French scientist La Hire to propose that every French household have a sand water filter installed that would provide clean water to that household. Sand filters had become the most popular method of water filtration throughout many European towns. Read more