Down, down, down it goes…

…down the bathroom sink, the bathtub/shower drain, the toilet – all those places that we allow the “dirty” water to pour into… ever wonder where that water goes?

For most of us, that water heads for a treatment plant, where – once cleaned – the water heads out to a stream or river or lake. But, the question must be asked: How “clean” is that clean water?

Treatment plants do a great job at removing objects and solids then adds filtering processes to remove small particles. Further treatment with bacteria and chemicals leave the water clean enough to drink directly – supposedly.

But, what exactly is “clean”? What about some of that stuff that goes down drains that may get through all the treatment procedures, e.g., chemicals? Ever wonder about those ingredients in your shampoo? Skin lotion? Bath bar? Makeup?

At present, treatment plants handle many common products found in waste water, but what about other chemicals: dietary supplements, drugs – prescription, over-the-counter,  veterinary – whole and ingested, pesticides, sunscreens, laundry soaps… the list goes on.

That anti-bacteria hand soap? What happens to that? As bacteria are an integral part of the water treatment process, can the anti-bacterials have an adverse effect in our eco-systems? If the chemicals are not removed, what happens to the ecology of our lakes and streams?

One study evaluated the presence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic contaminates in 139 streams in 30 states. They found 82 of 95 antibiotics, non-prescription drugs, steroids, and hormones in at least one sample. Eighty percent of streams sampled had more than one contaminant. Seventy-five percent had two or more. Fifty-four percent had more than five, 34% had more than 10 contaminants, and 13% of streams tested positive for more than 20 targeted contaminants.*

And that is just what they were testing for. Who knows what they missed.

Down the drain it goes, where it shows up, no one knows.

*Kolpin, D. W. et al. 2002. Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000: A National reconnaissance. Environmental Science and Technology 36(6):1202-1211 in https://extension.psu.edu/pharmaceutical-disposal-and-water-quality.

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