NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 25, 2008

Letter: U.S. must act to keep pharmaceuticals out of drinking water

To the editor:

A number of recent reports have shown that there are traces of pharmaceutical drugs in public drinking water supplies. Anti-depressants, antibiotics, anti-convulsion drugs, sex hormones and mood stabilizers are a few of the prescription drugs found in public drinking water supplies across the U.S.

So how are they getting there, you may wonder? Typically, what most people do with expired medication is flush them down the drain. Others may also throw them in the trash, which end up in landfills. From here, the drugs eventually end up in the water aquifer, where it may be deposited into our public water supply.

Traces of prescription drugs found in public drinking water supplies are found in amounts of parts per billion and parts per trillion. Though the traces are small, concerned scientists believe that the small traces can accumulate in the body, leading to potential adverse effects and human health risks. What researchers have found is that acute exposures to certain chemicals over long periods of time can lead to adverse human health effects. It doesn't take much.

The Clean Water Act establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and also regulates quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the CWA was enacted in 1948 and was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Many addendums have been made, including a name change, since its enactment in 1948. Currently, under the Clean Water Act, concentrations of pharmaceuticals in public drinking water supplies is not regulated. The federal government has not yet set permissible exposure levels either.

The U.S. Committee on Environment & Public Works is working to improve legislation within the Senate. A hearing on the issue will be held in April. The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained. Yet further research has shown me that pharmaceuticals are not considered a pollutant or toxic chemical as defined by the EPA.

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