Drugs In Drinking Water Study Prompts Calls for ChangeMar 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Last week's release of a study that found high amounts of drugs in many cities' drinking water has led to calls for more testing and other programs to protect drinking water supplies. A five-month-long inquiry by the AP found many communities do not test for drugs in drinking water and those that do often fail to tell customers they have found medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones. Medications were found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas and scientists are concerned about long-term ramifications to wildlife and human health. Senate hearings have been scheduled and there have been calls for federal solutions; however, officials in many cities say they aren't going to wait for guidance from Washington to begin testing.
Pharmaceutical industry officials said they would launch a new initiative Monday with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to advise Americans how to safely dispose of unused medicines. Also, pharmaceuticals in drinking water will be the focus of this week’s the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology in Seattle with 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries. "The public has a right to know the answers to these questions," said Dr. George Corcoran, the organization's president. "The AP story has really put the spotlight on it, and it is going to lead to a pick-up in the pace. People are going to start putting money into studying this now, instead of a few years from now, and we'll get the answers sooner than we would have otherwise,” he said.
"It's basic. We need to test, tell, and protect health," said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. Adding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to widely expand the required list of contaminants utilities must test; the list currently contains no pharmaceuticals. Also, government agencies and water providers that don't disclose test results "are taking away people's right to know, hiding the fact that there are contaminants in the water. We don't think they have that right. It's hubris, it's arrogance, and it's self-serving," said Wiles.
Other communities and researchers have begun releasing results. In Yuma, Arizona, city spokesman Dave Nash said an antibiotic, an anti-convulsant, an anti-bacterial, and caffeine were detected in Yuma’s drinking water. In Denver—where the AP reported undisclosed antibiotics were detected—a Colorado State University professor involved in Denver water screening e-mailed the names of 12 drugs detected there. But, officials at many utilities said without federal regulations, they didn't see a need to screen their water for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette state, "Given the national scope of the problem, a strong leadership role for the federal government suggests itself in areas such as testing and upgrading water treatment plants. So, it is discouraging to note that the Bush administration—in its 2009 budget proposal—cut $10 million from the water monitoring and research program." Lisa Rainwater, policy director of Riverkeeper, a New York-based environmental group, said the EPA should step aside and let the National Academy of Sciences or the General Accounting Office study the impacts on humans and wildlife. "Frankly, the EPA has failed the American public for doing far too little for far too long," she said.