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In the water supply: prescription drugs and human hormones

Haifa, Israel--There are a lot of nasty things in the water supply, but experts have begun to focus on something many didn't recognize as a problem a few years ago: medicines.

Drugs ingested by people or pets and then eliminated through digestion has become a significant concern, according to Carlos Dosoretz, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion, Israel's premier engineering university.

"Female hormones, all kinds of antibiotics, cholesterol regulators," he said. "It is a new problem because we now have the analytic instruments to detect it."

The increase in use of medicines has also fueled the problem.

It's a problem because municipal water is treated and then used in agriculture in some areas. Dosoretz is currently studying the potential effects on agriculture. Singapore has also begun to serve up highly treated wastewater through the tap for human consumption. In the future, other nations may do the same.

Getting medicines out of water, however, is difficult because of the relatively small size of the molecules. Dosoretz is working on a system that would eliminate these particles in a process similar to desalination.