[Pharmwaste] Stuff we flush could come back to haunt us when we drink water - Iowa article

Tenace, Laurie Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Mon Aug 15 08:07:59 EDT 2016


Caffeine and a drug used to regulate blood sugar levels for people with Type 2 diabetes wash down the drain every day to become some of the most common unregulated contaminants in Iowa's public drinking water, an IowaWatch investigation revealed.
The presence of these contaminants is so minuscule that what a drinking water consumer takes in is fairly minimal. But federal government officials are concerned about them because the risks of chronic ingestion of these contaminants are unclear, the result of a lack of research to determine potential health risks for humans.
Prescription drugs and caffeine contaminate rivers and streams treated to become drinking water. Many of these contaminants affect the human endocrine system, which produces hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, among other functions.
Chemicals that affect the endocrine system exist in nature but show up prominently in man-made products, such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, detergents and cosmetics, that people dump down a drain. These compounds commonly are referred to as emerging contaminants.
"Iowa is in a water quality crisis," Des Moines Water Works communication coordinator Laura Sarcone said.
She cited that facility's increased use of an expensive nitrogen removal process and a record number of impaired waters as determined by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as well as a growing concern about the impact of emerging contaminants.
Some of the cities in Iowa most likely to be exposed to emerging contaminants include Davenport, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Iowa City and Keokuk. All use a high proportion of surface water, making them more susceptible to pharmaceuticals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals than cities that rely more on underground aquifers for drinking water.
A new national study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from the third round of unregulated contaminant monitoring and concluded that millions of Americans may be drinking water with unsafe levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances. The contaminants come from industrial sites, military bases with firefighting training and wastewater treatment plants.
A little less than half of Iowa's residents get drinking water from systems that use surface water or a combination of surface and groundwater. They are among the nine of 10 Iowans who use public water systems, with the remainder using private well services.
Eight percent of Iowa's public water systems use surface water, sometimes mixed with water from other sources, but they are in the most heavily populated areas.
"Everything we use has the potential to become an environmental contaminant," Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said. "We use it, we excrete it, we wash it down the drain."
Caffeine ends up in water from many sources, not limited to coffee and soft drinks. Soap, shampoo and even pantyhose can be caffeinated, and it's this level of dependence on caffeine that makes it such a prevalent contaminant.
Treatment resistant
Although water from our drains and toilets goes through a wastewater treatment plant, emerging contaminants can survive wastewater treatment and end up in surface water, which then can become a source for drinking water for communities downstream.
So many potential contaminants to monitor from an array of sources exist that trying to understand each one can be overwhelming for researchers and treatment facilities. It is hard to narrow down what to focus on given the low-priority level of emerging contaminants for most facilities.
Tim Wilkey, superintendent of the Iowa City wastewater treatment plant, said pharmaceuticals and caffeine can pass through the treatment process but only at minute levels. Treated water from Iowa City's plant washes into the Iowa River, which feeds into the Mississippi River and continues downstream.
Some wastewater and drinking water treatment plants use a process called activated carbon, which is effective in preventing emerging contaminants from permeating drinking water supplies. This treatment process uses carbon to attract unwanted organic compounds such as caffeine through adsorption, leaching those compounds out of the finished water. Activated carbon also is used in air filtration and other purification applications.
According to findings from the 2013 Survey of Iowa Groundwater, the highest level of acetaminophen found in one sample was 826 ng/L (parts per trillion).
"For perspective, it would take almost 200,000 cups of untreated well water to equal the dose of acetaminophen recommended for infants," the report said.
Attempts to monitor
The Environmental Protection Agency does not require removal of emerging contaminants from drinking water. To better understand these lesser-known contaminants, the EPA developed the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, a program designed to monitor and collect data for contaminants suspected to be in drinking water in order to determine whether to regulate them in the future.
Public drinking water source testing began at the state level in 1988 and became a national program following the Safe Drinking Water Act amendment of 1996. The first list of contaminants to be monitored nationally was published in 1999 and monitoring ran from 2001 through 2003. The third round of monitoring was the first to include emerging contaminants.
Not all contaminants in the program are considered emerging. Naturally occurring compounds such as cobalt and testosterone were included in the third cycle, which ran from 2013 through 2015. Some of the monitored compounds considered to be emerging contaminants were perfluorooctanesulfonic acid - an ingredient in Scotchgard - and perfluoroheptanoic acid - a grease-proof substance used on food packaging.
No more than 30 contaminants can be monitored over a span of five years in the program, which Susan Glassmeyer, an EPA research chemist, said makes selecting which contaminants to monitor an added challenge.
"We only get to monitor 30 at a time, so we don't want to waste one of those slots," Glassmeyer said in an EPA webinar in June.
The contaminants for the fourth round of monitoring have been chosen and include 10 cyanotoxin compounds - produced by blue-green algae - and eight pesticides.
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These contaminants are monitored in all municipal supplies serving more than 10,000 people and select smaller systems. In Iowa, 58 public water systems participated in the last round of unregulated contaminant monitoring. Monitoring data is processed by certified labs, including the Iowa State Hygienic Labs in Coralville and Ankeny, and recorded with the EPA.
Monitoring expensive
Jeff Mitchell, a lab supervisor with Des Moines Water Works, said concern about pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants began in the past 10 to 15 years.
"We're always trying to stay ahead of the emerging contaminants, but money does influence that ability," he said.
The EPA pays for testing systems serving a population less than 10,000 for the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule, but for systems serving more than 10,000, the cost ranges from $50 to $470 per sample, per testing method, on average. The EPA estimates the average annual cost to each of these large systems over the five-year rule period to be less than $2,381.
Des Moines Water Works operates six systems that participate in testing for the program and most often saw levels of contamination below or equal to preliminary standards set in the monitoring rule.
Monitoring, however, does not equal treatment.
Chuck Pietscher, superintendent of the Keokuk Water Pollution Control Plant, said his plant does not have a specific treatment process to combat pharmaceuticals or other emerging contaminant endocrine disruptors.
Six percent of Iowa's public water systems violated standard health-based regulations in 2015, according to the DNR's annual compliance report released in July. About 200,000 of the 2.9 million Iowans served by public water supplies were exposed to some type of health-based violation.
Unlike the emerging contaminants, the contaminants in the DNR report are regulated by the EPA and proved to have some level of health risks if ingested.
Although there are no known health risks for humans ingesting emerging contaminants in water, research has shown some emerging contaminants have negative effects on aquatic life.
Iowa's water concerns
Measures to clean up Iowa's waterways garnered attention in the last state legislative session. One proposal involved allocating funds from the state's sales tax for water quality measures, but opponents argued the move would hinder public school construction and improvement projects, which currently receive that funding. Four bills failed in the Legislature, but Gov. Terry Branstad said it doesn't mean they are dead forever.
"When you have something that is big and bold and is a big change and expensive, it's not unusual that it might take more than one session," Branstad said in an interview with IowaWatch. "But there's a clear understanding that there's a need for a long-term reliable source for funding for water quality."
None of the failed measures targeted emerging contaminants, but improving Iowa's water quality needs a solution, according to many conservation groups as well as members of the state Legislature. One of the failed bills would have directed funds toward improving more than 700 impaired waters in the state. A proposal to raise taxes garnered hesitation from both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.
One measure to increase the state sales tax by 3/8 of a cent would have allocated the additional revenue to protect and enhance water quality and natural areas in the state, including parks, trails and fish and wildlife habitats, and conserving agricultural soils.
Branstad told a crowd in Storm Lake earlier this month that he stands by his plan to split state sales tax funding between school improvements and water quality projects with the deadline of 2029. The next day in Anamosa he said neither the Iowa House nor Senate could support a tax increase in order to fund water quality projects.
Kolpin said the U.S. Geological Survey and EPA research showing negative health effects in aquatic life is enough of a reason to investigate if humans could be at risk as well.
One Iowa public water system is funding contamination prevention through environmental grants. Both the East River Station treatment plant for the Davenport area and the Clinton water treatment plant are owned and operated by Iowa American Water, a subsidiary of American Water. The parent company, based in New Jersey, provides drinking water and wastewater treatment services in 47 states and Ontario, Canada.
American Water provides environmental grants to projects in their service areas with a focus on improving and restoring watersheds, surface and groundwater resources. In 2015, Iowa American Water funded a $1,000 grant to Gateway Impact Coalition, a Clinton County-based organization focused on increasing community collaboration and reducing substance abuse, to put pharmaceutical drop boxes in police departments in the county for people to drop off their pharmaceuticals for proper disposal.
"A lot of people flush medications down the toilet or discard of them not the right way, so we try to find a way to make sure those are disposed of properly," Rich Oswald, superintendent of the East River Station treatment plant in Davenport, said in an IowaWatch interview.
Kolpin said takeback programs such as the one in Clinton County could prevent some pharmaceuticals from going down the drain but it will take more to prevent pharmaceuticals from ending up in drinking water.
Instead of focusing on wastewater and drinking water treatment down the line, he said, people should focus on the source: reducing what he viewed as overuse of caffeine and adjusting the way doctors prescribe medications in order to prevent excess medication from piling up in home medicine cabinets.
Kolpin said future research into these contaminants will be important, especially given what scientists know about their effects on aquatic life.
"People aren't having massive effects, but there could be some chronic level multi-generational thing that we just don't know is happening yet," he said. "In my mind, there is good news, but it's cautionary news."

Laurie Tenace
Environmental Specialist
Waste Reduction Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road, MS4555
Tallahassee, FL  32399
Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us<mailto:Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us>

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