Mitigating the Problem of
Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water
We've become a nation dependant upon drugs. For better or worse,
we use pharmaceuticals for everything from getting to sleep to waking
up. We use them to stabilize our moods and to increase our sex drives.
But what happens to these drugs once we're done with them?
On a recent episode of Food
Chain Radio, Michael Olson talked with Alan Roberson of the
Water Works Association and environmental attorney, George Mannina
to find out what to do about it.
Our water treatment facilities are not equipped to handle all
of the drugs that end up in our water. And bottled water is no
better because it usually comes from the same sources. The Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) requires hundreds of tests each month
on municipal water supplies, but the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), which regulates bottled water, requires only one test a
week on bottled water.
This is no new phenomenon but its effects are becoming more apparent
as testing technology evolves. Testing technology has gone from
being able to test water in terms of parts per million to parts
per billion. The impact of some of these drugs is more clear than
others. For example, antibiotics are showing up in our drinking
water, which is scary when you consider that 65,000 Americans
die per year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. Some of the drugs
have even been linked with diabetes, breast cancer, and kidney
problems. Even worse, healthcare facilities dump about 250 million
pounds per year, which could end up in our water supply. These
hazardous drugs could include oncology drugs and toxic pain killers.
Mitigating The Problems of Drug Contaminated Water
We can talk about it until the cows come home, but what can we
do to fix the problem? First of all, we need to come up with a
means of properly disposing of unused pharmaceuticals that linger
in our medicine cabinets. Most parts of the country don't have
a means of disposing of residential hazardous medical waste like
they do for other hazardous waste.
As far as medical facility waste goes, the EPA has guidelines
in place to regulate the disposal of hazardous medical waste.
The problem is that medical staff are sometimes untrained regarding
compliance criteria. Staff must first determine whether particular
material is hazardous and then determine the appropriate method
for disposal. Medical waste, according to Roberson, should be
disposed of at available burning facilities that burn the material
at extremely high temperatures. The temperatures are so high in
fact, that the chemical bonds are broken.
February 1, 2010