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According to an investigation by the Associated Press, U.S. manufacturers, including drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into the waterways that often supply drinking water. Hundreds of pharmaceutical ingredients are used in drug manufacturing. For example, copper, which is also used in piping, is also used in contraceptives; nitroglycerine, which is used in explosives, is a heart drug.

Federal and industry officials say they do not know the extent to which manufacturers release the pharmaceuticals because no one tracks them. An analysis of about twenty years of federal data, however, found the government does unintentionally keep data on a few. Twenty-two of the compounds showed up on lists compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA classifies them as industrial chemicals released into water under federal pollution laws, while the FDA monitors them as active pharmaceutical ingredients.

It is unknown how much of that 271 million pounds comes from drug manufacturers versus other manufacturers. Researchers claim the lack of testing has created a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding whether drugmakers are contributing to the pollution. Drugmakers have insisted that their manufacturing does not significantly contribute to what is being found in the water. Federal drug and water regulators concur, although there have been trace amounts of a wide variety of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, such as antibiotics, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.

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