All those prescription drugs Americans take end up in the water - and that means in our drinking water too.

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The people of Charleston, W.Va., aren't the only ones who should be concerned about chemicals in their drinking water.

The case of chemical contamination there is extreme and prevented people from drinking the water or even bathing in it for weeks.

But a new study commissioned by the EPA shows that our drinking water has far more chemical contamination -- thanks to the prescription and over-the-counter drugs Americans take -- than anyone ever thought.

A new study that looks at water after it was treated at 50 of the country's largest waste water treatment plants found concentrations of 56 different active drugs. And they were at far higher concentrations than environmental experts had expected.

The mix included blood pressure drugs, as well as such drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen and Viagra.

But experts are especially concerned about the category of drugs known as endocrine disruptors – which include birth control pills and other kinds of hormonal drugs.

Nick Schroeck, an environmental expert at Wayne State University's law school in Michigan, points out that even at extremely low levels, these chemicals "inhibit the growth of aquatic and plant life." Already in the Great Lakes, a single-sex perch population has been found, which is believed to be a result of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the water.

And researchers in the U.S. know that endocrine disruptors found in everyday products -- certain kinds of plastic containers we use, for example -- may be connected to hormonal disorders in women, men and especially children.

Schroeck also points out that what no one knows yet is at what level are drugs harmful? And how do all these chemical compounds interact with each other?

Wastewater treatment and water treatment plants were designed to remove solids and certain other kinds of contaminants from water -- they were never meant to address the chemicals that get into our water because of the drugs we take. In fact, these treatment plants don't even screen for these types of chemicals.

"There's no treatment technology that exists that would remove all of these compounds," says Beth Toot-Levy, an environmental specialist for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. "They haven't found something yet that would be effective across the board."

And since people who live in the U.S. take the majority of the drugs prescribed in the entire world, this is a problem that's not going to go away.

Schroeck added, "The point is not to scare people but it is just to know that, yes, we now have good data showing that these chemical compounds are present in water that's discharged in the Great Lakes, and therefore in our drinking water system."

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