Drugs in drinking water
Today, the Legislature held hearings to explore the implications of drugs found in our water supply.
It’s about time.
The agency responsible for this problem – NJ Department of Environmental Protection – has done nothing to address the problem, despite having known about it for more than 5 years. DEP has looked the other way.
According to a study, dated June 2002, by the US Geological Survey (USGS) of monitoring pharmaceutical chemicals in our waters:
“A recent study by the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that a broad range of chemicals found in residential, industrial, and agricultural wastewaters commonly occurs in mixtures at low concentrations downstream from areas of intense urbanization and animal production. The chemicals include human and veterinary drugs (including antibiotics), natural and synthetic hormones, detergent metabolites, plasticizers, insecticides, and fire retardants. One or more of these chemicals were found in 80 percent of the streams sampled. Half of the streams contained 7 or more of these chemicals, and about one-third of the streams contained 10 or more of these chemicals. This study is the first national-scale examination of these organic wastewater contaminants in streams and supports the USGS mission to assess the quantity and quality of the Nation’s water resources. A more complete analysis of these and other emerging water-quality issues is ongoing.”
Little is known about the potential health effects to humans or aquatic organisms exposed to the low levels of most of these chemicals or the mixtures commonly found in this study.
Instead of responding to an emerging problem DEP has known about for over 5 years, just last month DEP proposed new clean water permit regulations that totally ignore the problem. See: Clean Water Anyone? http://blog.nj.com/njv_bill_wolfe/2008/04/clean_water_anyone.html
This is a particularly outrageous failure to act, because DEP regulations are renewed on 5 year cycles. That means this problem will remain unaddressed for at least 5 more years, unless the legislature mandates a new water quality monitoring and pollution control program for these chemicals.
If DEP were serious, they would have required a monitoring program to collect necessary data on the levels of these chemicals in wastewater effluent and ambient levels in NJ waters. After monitoring data is collected, regulatory standards are set. Permittees then would be required to upgrade pollution control treatment technology to reduce or remove these chemicals.
This is the way we have been solving water pollution problems under the Clean Water Act for more than 35 years.
It is easy to hold legislative dog and pony shows to create the mis-impression that you are solving a problem.
DEP regulations are where the rubber meets the road – and the silence on that lack of DEP resolve is deafening.
To see a similar case where DEP failed to act to protect wildlife from low levels of bio-accumulative toxics, see: NEW JERSEY WILL MISS WEDNESDAY’S WATER QUALITY DEADLINE — DEP’s Campbell Tells Chemical Industry He Will Bow on Toxic Standards