[Pharmwaste] Pharmaceuticals found in Erie's drinking water
LWelch at greatlakes.org
Sat Dec 13 16:05:39 EST 2008
Pharmaceuticals found in Erie's drinking water
BY GEORGE MILLER
george.miller at timesnews.com [more details]
Published: December 01. 2008 12:01AM
The Erie area's drinking water -- like that of other cities throughout the country -- has trace amounts of several pharmaceuticals as well as caffeine and a nicotine derivative, according to recent tests.
Erie Water Works officials don't believe the substances pose any health risk because they are in such minute quantities.
The substances were found in concentrations of parts per trillion. A part per trillion is equal to one drop diluted in a 43-foot-deep swimming pool the size of a football field.
Detected in the water were ibuprofen, a common painkiller, at 2.5 ppt; gemfibrozil, a cholesterol-lowering drug, about 2.5 ppt; and carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant, 2 ppt.
In addition, the tests found caffeine at 21 and 60 ppt and continine, a nicotine derivative, at 4 ppt and 7.6 ppt.
Water Works Chief Executive Paul Vojtek said the levels are so minute, for example, that someone would need to drink 25 million gallons of water to have the equivalent of a single 200 mg ibuprofen tablet.
He said the Water Works drinking water meets or exceeds all federal, state and local drinking quality standards.
"(The water quality) is very, very good," he said. "We have a high-quality source. The end produce is a very safe and reliable drinking water."
A membrane filtration system now being installed at the Richard S. Wasielewski Treatment Plant at the foot of Sommerheim Drive is designed to filter out most, if not all, pharmaceuticals and other trace contaminants from the lake.
The presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water has emerged as a concern as testing procedures have become more sophisticated.
An Associated Press investigation, unveiled in March, found at least one pharmaceutical or traces of caffeine in the finished drinking-water supply of 24 metropolitan areas.
Philadelphia's drinking water, for example, had 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts, including medicine for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems, according to the AP report.
And the drinking water in Washington and surrounding areas tested positive for five pharmaceuticals and caffeine.
The Erie Water Works was not part of the AP investigation, but the report prompted the water authority to hire two firms to do testing in summer.
One was done June 11 by Underwriters Laboratories of Northbrook, Ill., which tested for 85 contaminants June 11.
The other was done July 7 by MWH Laboratories of Broomfield, Colo., which tested for 35 contaminants, including household materials such as pesticides and cleaners. The testing list, developed at the discretion of the labs, did have overlapping substances.
According to the tests, some pharmaceuticals showed up in raw water tests, but were not detectable after treatment.
Found in the raw water supply -- but not detectable in the treated water -- were trace amounts of lincomycin, an antibiotic; sulfadimenthoxine, an animal antibiotic; estrone, a hormone; sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic; and 4-methylphenol, a household cleaner and disinfectant.
Pharmaceuticals find their way into the lake water primarily through human wastes that are flushed down the toilet.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection don't yet require testing of pharmaceuticals, but they are both researching the issue.
Rhonda Manning, environmental group manager for DEP, said that under normal water consumption, the pharmaceuticals don't seems to have an effect on humans.
"The concentrations are minuscule," she said.
But they are still being studied "very closely," she said.
A spokeswoman for EPA said the agency is also studying the issue.
"At this time," she said, " EPA does not have enough information to determine if it is appropriate to regulate the types of pharmaceuticals that have been detected in water."
John Presogna, manager of water quality and laboratory services at Erie Water Works, said the traces of pharmaceuticals are being found because testing is becoming more sophisticated.
But he said it's difficult to say how accurate the local tests were because the concentrations are so small.
"Two years ago, most of this wouldn't have been detectable," he said.
He said nicotine and caffeine are made by plants and could even have come from lake algae.
Presogna said the authority will continue with the testing, even though it's not required, just to know what's in the water.
Erie Water Works serves 52,000 customers in the city of Erie, Wesleyville, Lawrence Park, Harborcreek, Summit, Millcreek and McKean.
It also sells bulk water for residents of Millcreek, Fairview and Summit.
GEORGE MILLER can be reached at 870-1724 or by e-mail.
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