The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

I hate the taste of Philly tap water, even after it has been filtered.

It is true that Philadelphia has taken great strides in cleaning up its water since a few years ago, when people used the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers as dumping grounds. The Philadelphia Water Department even states that they’ve passed all EPA drinking water regulations for the past 25 years.

However, I was raised to believe that if something tastes funny, it has gone bad and should be trashed. Since drinking water can’t be thrown out as easily as expired chicken, I realized that the City’s tap water warranted further investigation. From this, I realized that Philadelphia’s drinking water may not be as clean as people think, and that stricter regulations should be put into effect.

One of the main reasons why I am now scared to drink Philly tap water is that it’s contaminated with pharmaceuticals. According to The Associated Press, in 2008 “traces of 56 human and veterinary pharmaceuticals” were found in Philadelphia’s drinking water, including active ingredients found in medications that treat mental illnesses, epilepsy and heart problems.

The Philadelphia Water Department’s most recent findings, from 2009, state that there were only traces of 17 different compounds, and the department’s information states that other cities also have pharmaceuticals in drinking water. But regardless of the amount, the question then becomes: is it enough to cause us harm?

The answer is that there’s no way of knowing. The government has no standards for how many pharmaceuticals are allowed in drinking water, and there isn’t enough research on the subject. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to reject a new drug on the basis of its environmental impact. Cities aren’t even required to test for or treat such contaminants (though Philadelphia does). The Brita filter sitting in your fridge probably won’t be enough to remove the traces. And bottled water isn’t necessarily pharmaceutical free either.

Many people at Penn are unaware that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are in their drinking water. The ones who are aware, however, were floored. Wharton sophomore Benjie Baclig was shocked because he “thought the water would be pretty pure.” He had no idea that there was that much waste present in the water. College senior Bell Athayu agrees, stating that such contamination “is a problem, and I think more people should know about this.”

Since Philadelphia’s water is contaminated with pharmaceuticals that may or may not cause harm, should we proactively take steps to clean it? I say yes, but not with our current cleaning agents. Our water, along with most of the other drinking water in the United States, is cleaned with chemicals like chlorine and fluoride. In addition, the City also treats its water with ammonia. While fluoride is not safe to ingest in large quantities because it can harm internal organs, both chlorine and ammonia are believed by most researchers to cause breathing problems and even cancer.

Penn has taken action to protect our water. Anne Papageorge, vice president of Facilities and Real Estate Services, wrote in an e-mail that Quench water filtration machines, which clean water via UV radiation, have been installed in various campus locations.

What politicians, companies and individuals need to realize is that water is one of our most valuable natural resources. College junior Jonathan Eskreis-Winkler concurs, saying that we need stronger regulations.

So what can we do right now? Water protection is integrative. So we should plant more trees, steer clear of synthetic pesticides and properly dispose of medications. But in the meantime, all we can do is keep our fingers crossed.

Laura Cofsky is a College sophomore from New York. Her e-mail address is Penn Name appears on Fridays.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.