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Organic Consumers Association

Pharmaceuticals, Personal Care Products Found in New York City Water Supply

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued support for a proposed law that would require the Department of Environmental Protection in New York City to test the city's drinking water supply for personal care product and pharmaceutical residue. Citing numerous studies that have found measurable levels of such contaminants in water supplies around the nation, EWG is encouraging support for measures that would investigate and report contaminant levels to the public.

Reports have found that the nation's water supplies contain various antibiotics, phytoestrogens and estrogenic steroids, and pharmaceutical and genotoxic drugs. New York City's water supply is no exception. Since these contaminants have the potential to inflict widespread reproductive harm, neuro-degeneration, endocrine disruption, and cell destruction in humans, EWG is urging that New York City monitor contaminant levels and issue annual water quality reports that outline the results. Since most of these contaminants are currently unregulated, they are typically not disclosed in existing water quality reports.

Wastewater treatment facilities are capable of removing most contaminants from water, however a small percentage of fragments make their way back into the water supply. When combined with thousands of other fragments, the aggregate mass of contaminant particles can pose serious health risks. The extent to which such contamination causes harm has yet to be fully understood and observed.

As it currently stands, pharmaceutical drugs are not regulated in tap water. Drinking water is usually not tested for them and, when it is, the results are usually withheld from the public. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have failed to set any guidelines for pharmaceutical content in water. Thus any level of pharmaceuticals in water is considered to be legal.

Perhaps the most important call from EWG is for improvements in wastewater treatment facility technology. Current methods work for certain microorganisms and compounds but fail to adequately filter pharmaceutical drugs and other synthetic compounds from water. Ultraviolet treatment, activated carbon treatment, and ozonation are some of EWG's suggestions for updating filter technology.

The goal of EWG is to promote water pollution reduction strategies that include raising public awareness about the issue, gathering and disseminating regular water quality data, and working to implement mitigation strategies both in the short and long terms.


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