Within the last week or so the issue of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water has gather some more attention. On Tuesday, April 15th, the United States Senate Committee on the Environment & Public Works held a hearing on the topic. David Pringle of New Jersey’s Environmental Federation testified before the committee. Somethings to note from that hearing are: that there are over 140 chemicals found in our drinking water including gasoline additivies, pesticides, and other chemicals. Some of these chemicals EPA believes to be cancer causing. Other chemicals we have no idea what the effects of the chemicals are.
EPA is over six years behind schedule in listing endocrine disrupting chemicals that it will test for. It has not established the testing protocols for some of those chemicals and it is not ready to require that these chemicals be monitored by the companies that provide our water. In response to a request from a committee member the EPA provided some information. Part of what they provided is very disturbing:
“while there is much information about the health effects of pharmaceutical products at the therapeutic doses provided in medication, there is still uncertainty about their potential effects on public health and aquatic life from long-term exposure to the low levels observed in water. In the absence of fully understanding the risks associated with low levels, it is difficult to move forward to require monitoring and/or treatment that carry significant cost . . .”
What a failure of government to do its basic job of protecting public health and safety. In the face of uncertainty the best course of action is to be proactive not wait until someone proves that these chemicals are doing harm. This is the basic tenant of the precautionary principle. Must we wait until its is proven without a shred of doubt that these chemicals singularly or in combination are causing an impact before we as a society decide to do something?
Hopefully the U.S. Congress will start to put the pressure of EPA to do its job. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has at least started to address the problem. DEP has issued a bulletin outling how to dispose of unused medication. The issue of drugs in our water also came up in yesterday’s NJ Senate Environment and Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Joint Committee meeting concerning site remediation. (Of which I will write about shortly.)