Millions of people, (down to young children prescribed psychiatric medications) take meds, but those who don’t got the bad news this week that they too are unwillingly imbibing a weird chemical brew of multiple meds. Delving past the official denials and half-truths, an Associated Press team of reporters (in a rare and laudable example of true investigative health journalism) found that 41 million Americans drink water contaminated by antidepressants, hormones, heart medications and other prescription and over the counter meds. The substances excreted by those taking them end up in the water supply. Standard water treatment methods don’t remove them.

Scientists don’t know how small quantities of a wide variety of agents never intended to be taken together interact in our bodies, or among themselves, where unintended toxic synergies can result.

But many fear to face the truth about the presence of chemicals within each of us. 

In Bill Moyers’ 2001 PBS special Trade Secrets, testing revealed that Moyers had a eighty-four different chemicals in his bodily tissues. But until mass use drives down testing costs, few can afford similar tests. What we don’t know could be hurting us but don’t count on reading all about it.

Unlike Moyers and the AP team, health coverage rarely probes the interconnection between personal and environmental health. Most coverage is at a third grade level, but unfortunately true health information isn’t.
So what we get is a media that purveys the latest research finding as “objective proof,” overlooking the vested interests that typically pay for the research, and quickly bury studies that don’t support the sponsor’s intended product claims.

Scrutiny is called for. In a number of federal regulatory agencies with oversight on food and health, so-called public servants regularly traipse to and fro the industries they supposedly regulate.

For example, aspartame, a known neurotoxin, gained FDA approval when Donald Rumsfeld (then Chairman of Searle, the aspartame patent holder) reportedly played a role in the appointment of Reagan’s FDA commissioner. Soon after breaking a tie at the panel that approved aspartame, this commissioner left the FDA, going on to serve as the PR czar for the companies producing aspartame.

Few journalists face up to a compromised policy context. Nevertheless, it shapes what’s regulated, what’s studied, how it’s studied, what’s regarded as “proof” in a study, what’s stamped as “safe,” and what’s targeted as “dangerous,” and what makes it on to a label and into our bodies, food supply, water supply, and the earth.

Instead of navigating this complex context, the health media either proffers “health tips” or offers information uncritically as if it descended from a scientific ivory tower, untainted by economic interest.

All of these factors meet in addressing the widespread contamination of the water supply.

As researchers attempt to get their hands around the problem, standard health science research may prove inadequate. Our current research model was developed to target substances patentable as drugs, not to explore the complexity of the human organism and the multiple influences (biochemical, psychological, and spiritual) upon it.

Researching only a single agent (as either cause or treatment) overlooks three factors:

A. Biochemical individuality, which causes people to react differently to various agents.

B. Multi-factorial impacts, in which multiple agents act together synergistically, or in unpredictable ways, beyond the limits of single agent testing to identify.

C. Environmental impacts

If many factors act in synergy to produce harm, testing only one, as we commonly do “proves” nothing. Although each individual drug in our water supply is “proven safe” for use by certain people, research into a single agent fails to deal with the real health dangers posed by multiple agents. Understanding multipliers will force as reassessment of the assumption that the earth and its creatures, including us, have infinite capacity to dilute whatever is poured into us.

“The chemical stress that’s put on any organism is the result of minute stresses of a multitude of chemicals,” says Christopher Daughton, the EPA’s chief of environmental chemistry in a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News on the impact of drugs in water on wildlife, which has resulted in the feminization of certain species of fish, whose males now bear eggs.

It’s the job of health reporting to connect the dots on some of these realities, and their attendant risk to human, animal, and global health.

But if instead you next read headlines about a study that refutes any potential health problem from drug contaminated water, don’t forget:

Deniability has a bottom line: the hefty price tags for the clean-up and health harm. Unless well-informed people call for a collective accounting for health risks and impacts, individuals will be forced to dig into their own pockets to cover the damages.

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