Last week I read about tests that had been done to check the levels of both prescribed and over-the-counter medications in the U.S. drinking water supply. Then today the Associated Press published a story describing the details. I would like to say I am shocked by this story, but unfortunately I am not. We should have long ago stopped believing when we toss something in the trash, let a chemical evaporate into the air, or flush our toilets, that we have seen the last of whatever it is we are throwing away.
It has been found that our bodies contain varying amounts of all kinds of chemicals that accumulate over years of exposure in the most common and mundane daily situations. A chemical used in gasoline today is present at surprising levels in the blood of most U.S. residents. I wrote an article in October of last year explaining why you should not use non-stick cookware. This story is just another example of how chemicals we think we protect ourselves from show up in our bodies.
According to water utilities cited in the AP report, the pharmaceutical chemicals in drinking water are present in amounts so small that no danger is present. I don’t know how the suppliers of our water can feel comfortable reaching this conclusion. There are many scientists that say we do not yet understand the health risks from many years of “persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals”. Studies have indeed shown serious adverse affects on human cells and wildlife.
Bottled or purified water may not be drug-free either as the bottlers do not typically test for or filter out drugs. Once again, I hope our local water supply is somewhat safe from the latest contamination news. Our water comes from an underground spring high in the mountains. In the summer, some treated river water is mixed in some of our supply so there may be some exposure from that.
As it should be, this story will be on your radio and TV news. What will probably be missing is the concern I have every time I read a story like this. I don’t care if the issue is irradiation of meat, antibiotic treatment of dairy cows, genetically modified food, or the health hazard of Teflon, we have a right to know. I want publicity and labeling of my food. I don’t want some “expert” employed by the bottled water industry deciding I don’t need to know because the danger level is low. Safety is an important issue, but so is full disclosure.
Producers and distributors of food and consumer products have an ethical obligation, and should have a legal obligation, to fully disclose what is in those products. In this post, I say there should be closer scrutiny of the tact some companies take of hiding behind “trade secret” concerns. We should be able to have a system that forces disclosure, but protects a companies trade secrets. Unfortunately industry fights full disclosure for other reasons also. Sometimes there is a concern that if consumers knew the meat or dairy they were buying contained hormones and antibiotics, consumers might choose to buy different product. You don’t say!!?? Second, frequently there is an almost patronizing, “it is better if they don’t know”, attitude towards the public. I really object to this. And, in case you think I am overly concerned about this lack of disclosure, I leave you with the following right out of today’s AP article.
The head of a group representing major California water suppliers (when asked about non-disclosure of the drugs in water supplies), said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information and might be unduly alarmed”.
Well I am alarmed! I am very alarmed. I am alarmed about the pervasive, patronizing, attitude of some regulators, industry groups, and companies who think that for our own good, we need to be protected from disclosure. Are you alarmed? Tell me in a comment if I am off-base in my concern. Choose an answer in the poll so we can get a visual idea of what you all think about this. Thanks!