[Pharmwaste] NJ lawmakers told effects of drugs in water unknown

Tenace, Laurie Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Tue May 13 09:23:52 EDT 2008


NJ lawmakers told effects of drugs in water unknown
TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey lawmakers were told Monday that it is uncertain
whether trace amounts of medications found in the state's drinking water can
adversely affect human health or wildlife. 

Jeffrey M. Fischer of the U.S. Geological Survey told an Assembly committee
additional research is needed on the potential effects. 

"We do know that they're in the streams," Fischer said. "The unknown
questions that we have are what are the human health effects and other
aspects of that. What are the effects on the ecology, the fish in the
streams, other animals that live in the streams?" 

Monday's hearing follows an inquiry by The Associated Press' National
Investigative Team, which found water suppliers usually don't tell customers
how screening found medication in their water, including antibiotics,
anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. 

The series showed how drugs _ mostly traces of what's been taken by people,
excreted and flushed down the toilet _ have gotten into the water supplies of
at least 24 major metropolitan areas from Southern California to northern New

Assemblyman Douglas Fisher, D-Cumberland, said the hearing showed more needs
to be learned. 

"Not to raise any huge alarms, but to get our arms around this before it
becomes a problem we would have difficulty dealing with," said Fisher,
chairman of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which
held Monday's hearing. 

Some of the most detailed testing was done at the Passaic Valley Water
Commission in northern Jersey, where a drinking water treatment facility
downstream from sewage treatment plants chemically removes sediments from
water, disinfects it with chlorine and runs it through extra filtering. 

Although the treatment decreased pharmaceutical concentrations, some samples
heading into drinking water pipes contained the painkiller codeine, an
anti-convulsant drug, the remnants of a drug to reduce chest pains and

The Passaic Valley Water Commission serves more than 800,000 people in
Clifton, Passaic and Paterson and surrounding towns. 

Its CEO, Joseph A. Bella, said safe drinking water is its priority. It uses
advanced treatment processes and is involved in several efforts to study how
to remove traces of prescriptions and other contaminants from water, he said.

Mark Tompeck, chairman of the New Jersey American Water Works Association,
said advanced treatment technologies can remove the traces. 

"However, before pursuing these extensive and expensive treatment systems, it
is important to determine if they are needed based upon health effects
studies," Tompeck said. 

Eileen Murphy, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's
science and technology division director, said there is scant human health
and ecological information available on most contaminants, especially when
they are found in combination. 

"Any one contaminant may not be of concern, but when combined with other
contaminants may pose a human health or ecological issue, and it's the
absence of this necessary information that is cause for concern," Murphy

Asked by Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, whether the traces were
affecting people, Murphy said, "Potentially. We don't have all the
information to make the assessment at this time, unfortunately." 

David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation told lawmakers that
the danger seems obvious. 

"Common sense dictates that it's not a good idea to drink somebody else's
medicine," he said. 

But Anthony Matarazzo of New Jersey American Water, said the levels are
"extremely small." He said a person would have to drink 100 million gallons
to get a typical dose of a prescription drug. 

"It is very unlikely that there is a harm to human health," said Leslie Wood
of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. 

Wood said 90 percent of the drugs found in water come through human
excretion, not from flushing drugs down a toilet. But Albano suggested
pharmaceutical companies put warnings on their packaging telling people not
to flush drugs down the toilet. 

Wood said pharmaceutical companies recommend throwing unused drugs into the
household garbage. 

Laurie J. Tenace
Environmental Specialist
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road, MS 4555
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2400
PH: (850) 245-8759
FAX: (850) 245-8811
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us 

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