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Drugs in drinking water

Roche (DSM) plant, Belvidere (Warren County) on Delaware River

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:

DuPont Chambersworks facility, discharges chemicals to the Delaware River.

“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.”

BASF Belvidere facility, on Delaware River

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

Middlesex County Utilities Authority Sewage treatment plant is regulated by NJDEP.

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.

chemical facilities and toxic sites line the banks of the Passaic River – which serves as water supply to millions in North Jersey.

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

wildlife are poisoned by chemicals at extremely low levels
Raritan River is lined by landfills, industry, and toxic sites. Fish and crabs are poisoned by mercury, PCB, dioxins and are unsafe to eat.
Where are the consumption Warning Signs?
  1. eyesofsussex
    May 13th, 2008 at 07:28 | #1

    For decades we cleaned our water based on what we knew: petroleum products, hydrocarbons, bacteria. Now we are beset with more pollutants of our modern society and we need to learn new ways of doing things.
    This should come as no surprise and has probably been sitting in the back of someone’s mind for years. How could you possibly think this issue would not eventually surface? Imagine what’s in the waste stream of any hospital….and then multply that by 10, 20 ,100.
    At home we are constantly told to dump old medications. Don’t leave them where kids might find them. If you’re in your medicine cabinet, in the bathroom, guess where they get dumped.
    What’s even scarier is the mental calculation of how much of these compounds, in “cleaned” water, went into the ocean and then absorbed by fish, eaten by us.
    And in full view of this, Lisa Jackson, of DEP infamy, has shelved the most stringent requirements for site cleanups.

  2. ferdek
    May 13th, 2008 at 08:29 | #2

    Why are we surprised? This is Lisa Jackson folks not some heavy duty DEP Commissioner with independent political/social/scientific clout. She is a bureaucrat hand picked by the Corzine Administration in close consultation with the Chemical Industry to assure the status quo for as long as possible. We are just naive to expect her to do anything outside of her highly constrained box of options. Look at most of the recent DEP commissioners. Any real technical/scientific expertise allowed to get near that job? The same guy who is running the former SCC was also running DEP not too long ago. DEP has lost its independence and lost its reason for being. CAPTURED! Don’t blame Lisa Jackson she is only a temp. Blame this and the last 5 governors for failing to meet their duty to protect us from toxic wastes everywhere in NJ. Why do we put up with these criminals? Jobs!

  3. nohesitation
    May 13th, 2008 at 08:52 | #3

    ferdek – you speak truth – Jackson is just a caretaker. But, recall that
    she was touted as an engineer with expertise that had risen through the
    ranks, not a political type. I even praised her appointment in this
    newspaper when it was announced by Corzine.
    I work on empowering scientists, agency capture, and corproate
    accountability every day – there’s lots we can do to open up the
    bureaucracy, limit the influence of special interests, and improve decsions.
    See our website for some tools – calling all “anonymous activists” out
    there – drop me a line – absolutely confidential.

  4. nohesitation
    May 13th, 2008 at 08:55 | #4

    eyesofsuusex – when medical waste started washing upon the beaches in the late 1980’s, the legislature jumped into action and passed “THe Medical Waster Management Act”.
    That law set up a strong regualtroy program at DEP to enforce requirements agaisnt mediacl waster geenrators, transporters adn disposal facilities, cradle to grave regulation.
    We know how to and have the tools to solve this problem.
    We need to do the same thing now, but instead of strong regulation and enforcement, DEP is locked into voluntary corporate market based schemes.

  5. ferdek
    May 13th, 2008 at 11:14 | #5

    nohesitation: I used to think that “coming from the ranks” was a possible path for reform of an agency. WRONG! The career people have no real power to change agendas. They are just tokens to periodically mollify the public. But in the end they are without clout to stand up to the Governor’s Office(aka industry lobbyists once removed). So until a Guv has the guts to appoint a real agent for change it won’t happen. When was the last time in NJ where an agency issued an order/regulations where the affected industry was outraged and sued for relief? Keep thinking I can’t remember any in say the last 25 years. Can anyone out there provide an example? Doesn’t that tell us something very troubling about government not pushing the boundaries built up by the special interests? CAPTURED!

  6. eyesofsussex
    May 13th, 2008 at 21:11 | #6

    to nohesitation…..
    Yeah, but can you honestly say that that law covered this situation and this type of pollution? Do you think it was intended to cover the average citizen or the local doctor dumping old/outdated meds down the toilet?
    The law was a reaction to medical waste like hypos, plastics and surgical waste washing up on the Jersey Shore. I remember it well. That was the same era of the “Garbage Barge” that went up and down the east coast looking for a dump site.
    You’re right about the DEP…no help there.

  7. nohesitation
    May 13th, 2008 at 21:56 | #7

    eyesofsussex – yes, the Medical Waste Management Act contemplated individual acts (needles) and got word out and guidelines to the medical care community about proper handling and disposal methods.
    Simialr programs (dry cell battery maangement act, Toxic Packaging Reduction Act, Household hazardous waste maangement, etc) provide guidance on how to produce less, recycle and dispose of problem wastes.
    No reason why a similar program could not be mandated for drugs (dumping meds down the toilet).
    No reason why industry and sewage treatment plants could not be required to monitor their discharge and river water quality.
    No reason why DEP could not mandate permit effluent limits to limit the discharge of this pollution to our waterways..
    If DEP merely requires water supply purveyors to install carbon filtration (which removes many of these chemicals) that takes the responsibility off the polluter and it also does nothing to stop the huge adverse ecological impacts theese chemicals are having on wildlife, aquatic life, and ecosystems.
    Source reduction and polluter pays policy must guide the program.
    I could write the bill and implementing regulations in 2 weeks 0 been there, done that.

  1. May 5th, 2010 at 09:54 | #1
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