AP's Drugs in Water Report Spurs Action

On March 10, the Associated Press shared what its investigative team found over five months-- that trace quantities of various pharmaceuticals have been found in treated drinking water in 24 major metropolitan areas.

The press agency outlined the extent of the problem, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require testing for these contaminants and has not established limits for them in water. According to the AP article, EPA has analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but only nitroglycerin made the draft contaminant list.

The information in the article has made its way across the globe already and a few concerned individuals are calling for action and explaining what they know.

In Congress

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) called on EPA to establish a national taskforce to investigate the situation and make recommendations to Congress.

 In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, Schwartz said, "The Associated Press report raises serious questions about the safety and security of America's water system. I am especially concerned about the lack of information known on the potential for pharmaceuticals in the water to bio-accumulate in humans or potentially decrease the effectiveness of antibiotics or other life-saving medicines."

She requested a response from Johnson by April 1.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), chair of the Congressional Urban Caucus, also penned a letter to Johnson seeking information on the long-term impact of a "tainted water supply."

Sen. Frank R, Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chair of the Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security and Water Quality Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said they will hold a hearing into the discovery of traces of pharmaceutical drugs in the water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.

The hearing will likely occur in early April.

The levels of pharmaceuticals found in the water are at levels measured in the parts per billion or trillion, far below levels of medical use. Scientists, however, are concerned that ingestion of these tiny amounts of drugs over a long period of time may pose health risks to the public.

From the Water Treatment Sector

In the testing of source water, the Santa Clara Valley Water District in California found only minute detections of pharmaceuticals. The district noted that EPA maintains an active program called the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) to identify contaminants in public drinking water that warrant detailed study. The CCL does not currently include any personal care products or pharmaceuticals. Moreover, the district said, recent scientific studies on treatment of some of these pharmaceuticals in water found:

• Granular activated carbon or powdered activated carbon are very effective in removing these compounds through adsorption

• Chlorine can remove some of the compounds through oxidation; and

• Ozone is capable of removing nearly all of the compounds studied through oxidation. In addition, the water district just completed construction of a water quality laboratory to ensure that county residents continue to receive some of the most pure and healthy water in the country. While the water district continues to address emerging issues, including pharmaceuticals in water, the best and most cost-effective way to ensure safe water at the tap is to keep the source waters clean. The community can assist by following the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which recommends not flushing prescription drugs down the toilet unless the accompanying patient information specifically instructs it is safe to do so. Even a Research Group 

Environmental Working Group's analysis shows that of the top 200 drugs in the United States, 13 percent list serious side effects at levels less than 100 parts-per-billion (ppb) in human blood, with some causing potential health risks in the parts-per-trillion range.

The Group calls on EPA to take swift action to set standards for pollutants in tap water that will protect the health of Americans nationwide, including children and others most vulnerable to health risks from these exposures.

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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