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Flint Michigan a Toxic Warning of a National Crisis, Ecologist Urgest Home Owners to Protect Themselves from Prescription Drugs in Our Tap Water

With recent water tests revealing more prescription drugs in our nation's water supply, including a cancer causing chemical, ecologist James P McMahon cautions homeowners to filter their tap water and contact their local water company or city utility to find out if the water they drink contains another city's wastewater.


Brookside, UT February 4, 2016 - Ecologist James P McMahon was not shocked when he learned about the Flint Michigan water crisis. High levels of lead were discovered in Flint's tap water, prompting extensive emergency measures to keep the city’s 102,000 residents safe. For years, McMahon has advised homeowners to protect themselves from contaminants found in drinking water throughout the U.S.  He urges homeowners to know what’s in their water. Of particular concern are trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, remnants of prescription drugs not absorbed by our bodies that are passed into wastewater, not filtered out at wastewater treatment plants and then remain in water that becomes another city’s drinking water source.

“It’s time to rethink the way we treat our drinking water resources. From pesticides to a toxic mix of pharmaceuticals, numerous unregulated contaminants can affect human health. As we learn more about the health effects of these contaminants, consumers must protect themselves until federal standards can be revised,” McMahon said. McMahon insists it’s nearly impossible for local water officials to ensure the safety of their water supply because many contaminants that may pose a long-term health risk are not federally regulated.  

Long before the crisis in Flint, scientists have been alarmed by the amount and variety of prescription drugs found  in drinking water supplies throughout the U.S. In a 2013 study by the EPA, 50 wastewater treatment plants were  tested for 56 drugs, including oxycodone and high-blood pressure medications. More than half the samples tested  positive for at least 25 of the drugs monitored, with high blood pressure medications appearing in the highest  concentrations.  

“We were surprised to find that many drugs occurring across all the wastewater plants,” said Mitchell Kostich, the EPA research biologist who led the study. A previous study in 2008 found drugs - including mood stabilizers and sex hormones - in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Another study, published last year in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal, revealed that trace amounts of the pharmaceutical drug Methadone underwent an alarming chemical reaction when mixed with wastewater disinfectants.  The reaction created high levels of NDMA, a known carcinogen that causes stomach and colon cancer after ingestion.  “NDMA is a very potent carcinogen,” said environmental chemist Susan Richardson of the University of South Carolina, who wasn’t involved with the study. “It’s being commonly found in drinking water well above the health reference level for cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently deciding whether to regulate it.”

The same reported said concentrations of NDMA, Methadone and other pharmaceutical contaminants pose a greater risk to homeowners who are “downstream” from another city’s waste water treatment facility.   There are hundreds of communities throughout the United States whose residents may not be aware that they’re drinking someone else’s wastewater, exposing residents to higher concentrations of contaminants than residents in “upstream” cities.

In addition to the 2008 and 2013 findings, other studies found a connection between intersex fish (fish with both male and female features) and pharmaceuticals, and in a European study poison experts concluded that over time, humans could be harmed by ingesting drinking water contaminated with tiny amounts of pharmaceuticals.

Yet despite these disturbing results from different scientific studies, the federal government hasn't yet established any safety limits for drugs in water. Without regulation these substances don’t show up in local water quality reports.

“The body of evidence leaves no doubt in my mind that our drinking water should be tested for hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals,” McMahon said. “But consumers should not immediately assume that pharmaceuticals are in their water. One must obtain and read your city’s local water quality report in order to better understand what contaminants are present. Pharmaceuticals are not regulated, so they won’t be listed, but if your water source is a river and there are other cities upstream, then there will be pharmaceuticals in your water,” McMahon said.

What should homeowners do? McMahon urges homeowners to take matters into their own hands. “I recommend drinking filtered tap water. The filter you need depends on your water source. For example, where pharmaceuticals are present, I recommend reverse osmosis at the kitchen sink,” McMahon said.

“Flint can teach us all a lesson – there was a time when we thought that lead was safe, and it was just banned from faucets in 2014. We cannot take anything for granted when it comes to our health and the health of our children,” McMahon said.   


Media Contact: Ecologist James P McMahon at 970-259-2171

Mon - Fri, 9 AM - 6 PM, Mountain Time

See additional sources of scientific literature backing these statements at:


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