New fridges defend against drug-laced drinking water

The eco- and health-conscious among us have warned for a while now that all those expired pain-killers, birth control pills and antibiotics some people flush down the toilet are coming back to haunt us in the form of pharmaceutical-laced drinking water.

Up until now, those who wanted to avoid such contamination could buy a filter for their kitchen taps that would, hopefully, draw out most of the drug residues. But GE has now unveiled a line of refrigerators with built-in filtration systems specifically aimed at reducing concentrations of pharmaceuticals in water and ice.

According to GE, tests show the new French door fridges remove 98 percent of five trace pharmaceuticals: ibuprofen, atenolol, fluoxetine, progesterone and trimethoprim.

“Water treatment plants do a great job of cleaning our water, but they can’t always filter out all contaminants, and trace pharmaceuticals are left in the drinking water that comes into our homes,” said John Boyd, refrigeration marketing manager for GE Appliances.

A number of studies have found measurable amounts of various prescription and non-prescription medications in drinking water supplies, and a 2009 Associated Press investigation reported that — in the US alone — at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals have entered waterways that can be used to provide drinking water. A recent Swedish study found that up to 85 drugs could be detected in water coming out of wastewater plants after treatment.

The World Health Organization in 2011 noted that the low concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in drinking water typically suggest a “very low risk to human health.” However, it added it will continue to review relevant scientific information about the issue as it emerges.

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