Tests by the Drinking Water Inspectorate found that a metabolized form of the drug, (meaning that it has passed through the human body) benzoylecgonine, had been detected at four separate sites across the country. This was even after the extensive ultra-fine filtration processes had been conducted.
Other drugs found in everyday water were ibuprofen, the painkiller, and an anti-epilepsy medication. None were in doses anywhere near high enough to pose immediate threats to public health. What they do show, startlingly, is how prevalent use of cocaine, in particular, has become.
The revelation is no surprise to drug charities. DrugScope has already drawn up figures that estimate there are 700,000 regular users of cocaine aged between 16 and 59 living in the UK. Of those, just less than a third are addicts, addicted to crack cocaine. According to Steve Rolles, of research institute Transform, the UK has almost the highest cocaine use in all of Western Europe, and this is unlikely to change as it keeps getting cheaper and cheaper and easier to procure.
Previous tests have come up with equally disturbing results. Cocaine traces have been found on almost every British banknote, at two-thirds of all the prestigious Cambridge colleges, and in the toilets at the House of Commons. This is the first time that cocaine has percolated its way past the main bastions of privilege and into the plumbing of the average home.
Cocaine is much cheaper in Britain than it is in America. It can be purchased for £40 a gram, where the equivalent price in the US would be almost four times that amount. The fall in price has led to it losing its association with the rich and famous, previously the only set who could afford it, and now it is used by all strata in society, even by young kids. One in every twenty 15 and 16 years olds are said to have tried cocaine. This statistic comes from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Although these exposures are many thousands of times lower than the levels which could possibly even begin to be suspected of causing harm, the worrying revelation here is the widespread consumption of the Class A drug. Drinking water may be perfectly safe, albeit with its infinitesimal traces, but large sections of the population are clearly putting their lives on the line by doing coke. Or are they? Is it just another scare story?
Not all commentators agree with this foregone conclusion, that Britain has become a nation of coke-heads. It has been pointed out that the benzoylecgonine is also a trace element of a very popular and best selling muscle rub. Who can say whether it’s the keep-fit fanatics who are infiltrating the waterways with their over-zealous use of deep-heat?
Whatever is in it, the drinking water in the UK remains some of the safest in the world. It is tested a remarkable 30,000 times a year. It could be much more of an environmental disaster if fear of the tap water led to a rise in bottled water consumption. Despite huge efforts to educate people, still only 25 percent of all plastic water bottles end up in recycling.
Cocaine in the tap water is a controversial and worrisome finding, however it is interpreted.
By Kate Hendersson