, Newburyport, MA

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.

It leaves me wondering: Why is our drinking water, though heavily tested, allowing such chemicals and products to be seeping in and found in our public drinking water supplies? What effects may this have on the safety of our drinking water? Is the problem larger than we are being told? If we continue testing our water, what else may we find? How come there are not any laws and regulations for the disposal of old, expired, or un-used medications? Where else in our environment may these drugs appear?

What needs to be done to help solve the issue of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, not to mention a number of other chemicals that may be found in drinking water, is to write in and call your local representatives and senators questioning them, letting them hear your opinions. We need to question why our tepresentatives are allowing such an issue to go unheard in Congress. With potential health issues such as drugs in public water, are we going to have redefine the definition of "safe"?