[Pharmwaste] Chicago water - in public reports,
city silent over sex hormones and painkillers found in
treated drinking water (article)
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Tue Jul 14 08:26:28 EDT 2009
Chicago water: In public reports, city silent over sex hormones and
painkillers found in treated drinking water
Pharmaceutical chemicals aren't on list of substances in water that require
By Michael Hawthorne | Tribune reporter
July 14, 2009
Annual water quality reports mailed to Chicagoans this month didn't say a
word about sex hormones, painkillers or anti-cholesterol drugs, even though
city officials found traces of pharmaceuticals and other unregulated
substances in treated Lake Michigan water during the past year.
Like other cities, Chicago must notify the public if its drinking water
contains certain regulated contaminants, including lead, pesticides and
But pharmaceutical chemicals, which have been detected in drinking water
across the country, are not on that list. So Mayor Richard Daley is
technically correct in stating that the "pure, fresh drinking water" pumped
to 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs "meets or exceeds all
Drinking water standards haven't been updated for years, in part because
little is known about how pharmaceutical concoctions might affect public
health. But researchers and regulators are concerned about the potential
effects of long-term exposure to these substances, which are designed to have
an impact at low doses.
"We're just scratching the surface with what's been detected to date," said
Dana Kolpin, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey. "And we don't have a
clue about what these mixtures can do."
Chicago officials didn't start conducting their own tests until last year,
after a Tribune investigation found small amounts of pharmaceuticals and
other unregulated chemicals in samples of the city's tap water.
The city collected samples of treated Lake Michigan water four times in 2008.
According to results posted on the city's Web site, the tests found small
amounts of the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone; gemfibrozil, a
prescription cholesterol-fighting drug; ibuprofen, an over-the-counter
painkiller, and DEET, the active ingredient in bug spray.
The tests also found caffeine, nicotine and cotinine, a nicotine byproduct,
all of which researchers consider to be indicators of pharmaceuticals from
Drugs end up in drinking water after people take medications and some of the
residue passes through their bodies down the toilet. Conventional sewage and
water treatment filters out some of the substances, or at least reduces the
concentrations, but multiple studies have found that small amounts still get
Although treated sewage from the Chicago area drains away from Lake Michigan,
more than 300 other cities put treated waste and untreated sewage overflows
into the lake and its tributaries, according to the U.S. Environmental
Chicago's tests found tiny amounts of the antidepressant Prozac and
sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic, in untreated water collected from Lake
Michigan intake cribs. But those prescription drugs weren't found in treated
water. Nor were most of the 71 other unregulated compounds the city screened
The Daley administration first promised to test for pharmaceuticals monthly,
then changed course after the first tests turned up inconsistent results. Now
officials plan to collect samples three times a year and send the water off
to be tested by three different labs.
"We haven't seen any patterns yet, so it's tough to reach any conclusions,"
said John Spatz, the city's water commissioner. "But since it's an emerging
issue, we're going to keep following it."
As promised, the test results are available online. Yet it requires
considerable sleuthing to find them on the Department of Water Management's
home page, and the drugs found in the water are not easily discernible amid
six pages of numbers.
In the Tribune's tests, conducted in March 2008, water drawn from a drinking
fountain at City Hall contained trace amounts of cotinine; carbamazepine, an
anti-seizure drug; and acetaminophen, an over-the-counter painkiller. The
newspaper's tests also found two unregulated industrial chemicals used to
make Teflon and Scotchgard, neither of which the city tested for.
Even though such substances are turning up virtually every time researchers
look for them, the EPA says it still doesn't have enough evidence to limit
pharmaceuticals and many other unregulated chemicals in drinking water -- in
part because cities haven't been required to test routinely for the
The Obama administration's top water regulator, Peter Silva, promised at his
confirmation hearings to step up the government's research efforts. Without
direction from federal officials, cities across the nation have slowly begun
to test their water for pharmaceuticals, prompted by studies in Europe and
later by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Milwaukee, which also draws its drinking water from Lake Michigan, added
dozens of pharmaceuticals three years ago to its annual testing for
unregulated contaminants and posts easy-to-understand results online. Nothing
turned up last year, according to the city's site.
Water officials say not enough is known to justify spending millions of
taxpayer dollars to upgrade treatment plants so they could strip the
chemicals from the water. The most effective method, reverse osmosis, is
expensive and creates a large amount of waste.
Waste Reduction Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
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Tallahassee FL 32399-2400
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