A new discovery by scientists at the University of Maryland adds to the issues for people whose drinking water is supplied by rivers. Former studies have shown conclusively that as many as 43 million Americans are drinking water from rivers with cities upstream. The upstream cities discharge treated sewage into those rivers. Though the sewage is treated to digest fecal material and kill bacteria that water is proven to contain numerous unregulated contaminants, including pharmaceuticals such as heart and pain medications, albeit in small amounts. Basically, some portion of any chemical that people consume ends up leaving their body through urine or feces and entering the sewage system.
Sewage treatment plants do not remove these chemicals before discharging that water into rivers and lakes. And really they don’t have the technology to remove them. The cost to do so would be huge.
Now scientists have discovered a resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, at sewage treatment plants. The tests were conducted in the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. These bacteria enter the water in the same way, from the urine and feces of people who are sick. They can then infect those people living downstream. This is the same strain of bacteria that is infecting people in hospitals. The fact that people are becoming infected outside of hospitals is what led researchers to perform this study. They have concluded that the bacteria is present in sewage.
So far it appears that chlorination, the treatment used by sewage treatment plants to kill bacteria, does kill MRSA. Therefore it should not be present in downstream water supplies. However that doesn’t mean some can’t slip past. There are instances, such as after large rainstorms, when cities don’t adequately chlorinate sewage. In these cases MRSA could be present in water supplies downstream prior to chlorination by your water provider.
While I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this issue it’s one more example of the problem posed by using water to both dispose of our waste and then using the same water for drinking. This is an incredibly complex problem that we’re only now learning about.
I urge all individuals whose water supply is a lake or river in which upstream cities discharge sewage to use reverse osmosis for drinking water. This research suggests that UV light might also be a wise choice. Another opiton would be a whole house water purification system that includes my Urban Defender plus a UV light. I’m just keeing you informed.