EPA Taken to Task for Drugs in Drinking WaterApr 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
At a Senate hearing this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was scolded for information released to the public about pharmaceuticals being present in much of the nation’s drinking water. The information came from an Associated Press investigative series, which ultimately prompted the Senate hearing.
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works chair, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat-California, scolded the EPA’s Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water, because the agency does not require drug testing of water and resultant test result disclosure. “When a story like this breaks, why is it necessary for Senator (Frank) Lautenberg to call a hearing on this? Why aren’t you working on this night and day?” Boxer asked. “The Associated Press did your work and they’re telling us what’s in the water.”
After a five-month-long inquiry by the AP, it 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. Also, water providers are not required to test for pharmaceuticals and the EPA’s budget for the testing of endocrine disruptors in America’s waterways was cut by 35 percent.
“We’re very concerned. It does send a big red flag. We’re taking this very seriously,” Grumbles testified, adding that the EPA was “drastically expanding the scope” of its monitoring of such issues. “Your concern is not comforting. I can tell you that,” said Lautenberg, Democrat-New Jersey, who chairs the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality. “Action is what we are trying to get.”
Boxer advised Grumbles to immediately release those records that the AP recently requested in a Freedom of Information Act request from a White House task force. The task force is allegedly creating a federal plan to research pharmaceuticals in the environment. But, just this week, the AP reported that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy group did not supply a national research strategy by its December deadline. Approximately 70 pages of documents were released; however, a White House lawyer told the AP that another “10 inches worth” were not released. “The White House is keeping its task force secret,” said Boxer, who asked the Bush administration to “immediately release all of the records.”
After the hearing, Lautenberg said the EPA response was inadequate. “To me, it represents a sleight of hand that we are familiar with here.”
In separate testimony, Robert M. Hirsch, the USGS’s associate director for water said, “Whether or not there are adverse human health effects from cumulative lifetime exposures to the low concentrations of complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals found in the environment remains a research priority, particularly the effects on sensitive subpopulations such as children, women of child-bearing years, the elderly and people with suppressed immune systems.”