We take for granted that drinking tap water is not going to alter our mood and that eating salmon is not going to throw our hormones out of balance. But trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have been found in drinking water and aquatic life, raising questions about how these chemicals could affect human health. Local and federal governments began to address the issue this year, and a new project by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be the basis for future solutions.
EPA recently listed pharmaceuticals such as erythromycin and estradiol as candidates for regulation in drinking water. It also will look for 125 pharmaceuticals or related chemicals at 50 water-treatment plants. The results of the research could lead EPA to draft drinking-water standards. EPA had not previously included pharmaceuticals on its list of candidates, but now recognizes their potential adverse health effects.
Many unused drugs get into the water supply after they are flushed down the toilet. But the US Food and Drug Administration wants to develop programs to return unused drugs, thus preventing them from entering the water supply. Many communities created drug-return programs this year. In these programs, the drugs usually are incinerated to destroy their active ingredients. For the time being, FDA has updated its recommendations about which medicines should be flushed and how.
I’m glad that EPA is beginning to monitor pharmaceuticals in our water. The agency’s new study will help us understand the magnitude of the problem. I think FDA’s goal of universal drug-return programs is commendable because it would all but eliminate concerns about pharmaceutical contamination of drinking water. It’s reassuring to see public officials take steps to address potential hazards such as this one. Maybe 2010 will sharpen our government’s focus on the public’s well being. I’ll ring in the new year with a drink to your health!