PHARMACEUTICALS IN THE WATER:
The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s (MAWC’s) drinking water supplies meet all current Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards. This includes drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants. Currently these 90 contaminants do not include the pharmaceuticals that are being discussed in the news media. The contaminants that MAWC is required to test for and the EPA publishes are developed through an exhaustive process called the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). The EPA is currently on CCL3 which is currently in draft form and includes pharmaceuticals and personal care products. MAWC relies upon this process to identify contaminants that should be monitored for. The EPA’s CCL is based on substantial expert input and recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences National Research (NRC) and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) to identify contaminants for inclusion on the draft CCL3.
The steps included:
- The EPA identified 7,500 potential chemical and microbial contaminants.
- Applying screening criteria to these contaminants. The EPA identified 560 of those contaminants that should be further evaluated based on a contaminants’ potential to occur in public water systems and the potential for public health concern.
- EPA then selects 104 contaminants from the 560 to include on the CCL based on more detailed evaluation of occurrence and health effects and expert judgment.
- Information was incorporated from the public, expert input and expert review in the CCL process.
The CCL process also identifies laboratories and testing procedures which are critical for the contaminants on the list. This is extremely important so that MAWC is assured that the data that is collected is accurate.
Pharmaceutical residues found in water supplies are a concern that MAWC takes very seriously. While the scientific community does not yet know of any human health effects from trace (part per trillion) amounts of these chemicals, MAWC’s proactive participation in the EPA’s CCL process is our commitment to being responsible water providers.
Our water treatment processes significantly reduce the concentration of potential pharmaceuticals in our water supplies. All of our water treatment plants can utilize powdered activated carbon which is an advanced treatment for the removal of a broad range of organic chemicals including the pharmaceuticals. MAWC’s George R. Sweeny Water Plant incorporates granular activated carbon filters in the treatment process which is considered one of the best available treatment technologies for removal of pharmaceuticals.
The solution to this problem does not end with advancements in water treatment, however. We also need to be protecting the environment and our sources of drinking water. MAWC is currently participating in two (2) efforts to more fully monitor the raw water entering our treatment plants.
- MAWC is working with the PADEP to expand the Authority’s Source Water Protection Plan. This effort will increase the information that we know about sources of pollution and how they enter our water sources.
- MAWC is also working with 33 other regional water suppliers in an organization called the River Alert and Information Network (R.A.I.N). This organization not only improves the monitoring of our local rivers for security/terroristic concerns but also for emerging issues such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals getting into our source waters.
A comprehensive solution requires the collective effort of the federal government, animal feeding and production operations, water utilities and consumers.
Here are some recommendations of MAWC:
- MAWC strongly encourages U.S. EPA to make research into treatment technologies a high priority.
- U.S. EPA and FDA must address whether the presence of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals result in short-term or long-term effects on human health and how such chemicals effect the environment.
- MAWC must take steps to keep their consumers informed of their efforts to monitor and remove pharmaceuticals from water sources. Just as water utilities need data to make informed decisions, we believe that consumers should have the information they need to make personal health decisions.
- Animal feeding and production operations should endeavor to reduce their contributions on antibiotics and steroids into water supplies, and that industry should drop its efforts to seek liability exemptions from federal hazardous waste laws.
- The federal government should take the lead in developing a national program to provide consumers with an easy way to dispose of unused prescriptions. Likewise, the government should revise federal guidelines that currently encourage consumers to flush certain unused prescriptions down the sewer system.
In the meantime, MAWC will continue to invest in research and work with the public, the public health community and the federal government to ensure that the needed research is conducted.
To find a location to dispose of your unused or expired pharamaceuticals, use MAWC's PILL DROP OFF LOCATIONS map.