Test it, study it, figure out how to clean it -- but still drink it. That's the range of reactions raining down from community leaders, utilities, environmental groups and policy makers in reaction to an Associated Press investigation that documented the presence of pharmaceuticals in major portions of the nation's drinking water supplies.
"There is no wisdom in avoidance. There is wisdom in addressing this problem. I'm not suggesting that people be hysterical and overreact. There's a responsible way to deal with this -- and collectively we can do it," said Washington-based environmental lawyer George Mannina.
A five-month-long inquiry by the AP National Investigative Team found that many communities do not test for the presence of drugs in drinking water, and those that do often fail to tell customers that they have found trace amounts of medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. The stories also detailed the growing concerns among scientists that such pollution is adversely affecting wildlife and may be threatening human health.Quote has been trimmed
As a result, Senate hearings have been scheduled, and there have been calls for federal solutions. But 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focused on telling Americans how to safely dispose of unused medicines.
The subject of pharmaceuticals in drinking water also will be discussed this week when 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries gather in Seattle for the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology. "The public has a right to know the answers to these questions," said Dr. George Corcoran, the organization's president.
Wiles said the Environmental Protection Agency needs to widely expand the list of contaminants that utilities are required to test for. That list currently contains no pharmaceuticals. He also said 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.Quote has been trimmed
As part of its effort, the AP surveyed 62 metropolitan areas and 52 smaller cities, reporting on positive test results in 24 major cities, serving 41 million Americans. Since release of the AP investigation, other communities and researchers have been disclosing previously unreleased local results, positive or negative.
In Yuma, Ariz., for example, city spokesman Dave Nash said four pharmaceuticals -- an antibiotic, an anti-convulsant, an anti-bacterial and caffeine -- have been detected in that city's drinking water. In Denver, where the AP had reported undisclosed antibiotics had been detected, a Colorado State University professor involved in water screening there e-mailed the names of 12 specific drugs that had been detected.
Officials at many utilities said that without federal regulations, they didn't see a need to screen their water for trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. But others have now decided to test, including Scottsdale...
"It's a problem in which the average person has both a stake and a role in the solution," read a Journal Sentinel editorial. "He or she can do something as simple as not flushing unused medications down the toilet or into the drain."
The only thing that makes sense to me, would be that the Px's are added in after the sterilization process..... or they're really powerful drugs.
Just doesn't make sense to me that their immediate determination is just simply people dumping their Px's down the drains. That's got to be a crap load of people doing that in order to have any major and noticable effect, and have to be the same/similar drugs.
And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed that "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."
While the local responses are encouraging, 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.
At least one local water official is putting part of his faith in another quarter. Wayne Livingston of the Oxford Water Works in Alabama said he has confidence in the existing treatment system. But he said his agency probably will test for pharmaceuticals now, although he doubts anything will turn up because the water is pumped from underground.
"The good Lord filters it," he said. "But this is something we should keep an eye on."