Pharmaceuticals in the Nation’s Water

Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality
Hearing Held Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pharmaceuticals in the Nation’s Water: Assessing Potential Risks and Actions to Address the Issue

Follow this link to the Senate hearing web page.

Testimony of Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for Water, US Environmental Protection Agency*

Selected quotes from Mr. Grumbles’ testimony:

  • “While there is much information about the health effects of pharmaceutical products at the therapeutic doses provided in medication, there is still uncertainty about their potential effects on public health and aquatic life at the extremely low levels observed in drinking water and surface water.”
  • “At this time we simply do not know whether there is a human health risk of concern from the levels that have been reported in water.”
  • “While we know that pharmaceuticals have health effects at the therapeutic dose, we are less certain about the health effects associated with long-term exposure to much lower concentrations.”
  • “It is important to ensure that utilities continue focusing their efforts at removing those contaminants with known risks (such as pathogens), especially when monitoring and/or treatment efforts aimed at pharmaceuticals at low levels could carry significant cost with unknown risk reduction.”
  • “EPA considered 287 chemicals identified as pharmaceuticals and personal care products; however, only one was included on the Draft CCL 3 because most occurred at levels far below those currently associated with any adverse health effects, based on the best available human health effects data.”
  • “In the absence of reliable data indicating potential risks associated with pharmaceuticals in water at the very low levels at which they have been detected, it would be inappropriate to require monitoring and/or treatment that could carry significant cost, with no evidence of significant risk reduction based on currently available data.”

Testimony of Robert Hirsch, Ph.D., Associate Director for Water, US Geological Survey*

Selected quotes from Dr. Hirsch’s testimony:

  • “The effects of long-term exposure to the low levels of pharmaceuticals found in the environment on human health are not understood and warrant continued study.”
  • “Whether or not there are adverse human health effects from cumulative lifetime exposures to the low concentrations and complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals found in the environment remains a research priority, particularly the effects on sensitive subpopulations such as children, women of child-bearing years, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems.”

Testimony of Shane Snyder, Ph.D., R&D Project Manager, Applied Research Development Center, Southern Nevada Water Authority (testifying on behalf of the American Water Works Association)**

Selected quotes from Dr. Snyder’s testimony:

  • “The fact that we can detect trace contaminants does not alone imply risk.”
  • “The few pharmaceuticals we did detect in US drinking waters occurred at unfathomably low concentrations.”
  • “The concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in water supplies are millions of times lower than a medical dose.”
  • “Using the highest concentrations found and the most conservative safety factors to protect susceptible populations such as infants and pregnant women, our report will demonstrate that one could safely consume more than 50,000 eight-ounce glasses of this water per day without any health effects.”
  • “To date, no peer reviewed published research has found ill effects on humans from pharmaceuticals in the environment at the trace levels we have seen in drinking water.”
  • “The concentrations of pharmaceuticals we studied are orders of magnitude lower than would pose a public health threat.”
  • “I recommend we focus on research related to health effects from trace pharmaceuticals with a lesser emphasis on occurrence, in order to determine whether there is in fact a problem to solve. The critical question we must address is not ‘Do they exist?’ but rather, ‘At what concentration are these compounds harmful to human health?’”

Testimony of Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council

Testimony of Alan Goldhammer, Ph.D., Deputy Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

Testimony of David Pringle, Campaign Director, New Jersey Environmental Federation and Clean Water Action

*EPA and USGS are DWSP Partnership members

**AWWA is a water industry advocacy group representing water utilities among the Partnership members