46 million affected by trace drugs in drinking water, including in Georgia

12 09 2008

(AP) — Testing prompted by an Associated Press about trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in drinking water has shown that more Americans are affected by the problem than previously thought — at least 46 million.

That’s up from 41 million people reported by the AP in March as part of an investigation into the presence of pharmaceuticals in the nation’s waterways.

The AP stories prompted federal and local legislative hearings, brought about calls for mandatory testing and disclosure, and led officials in at least 27 additional metropolitan areas to analyze their drinking water. Positive tests were reported in 17 cases, including Reno, Nevada; Savannah, Georgia; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Huntsville, Alabama. Results are pending in three others.

The test results, added to data from communities and water utilities that bowed to pressure to disclose earlier test results, produce the new total of Americans known to be exposed to drug-contaminated drinking water supplies.

The overwhelming majority of U.S. cities have not tested drinking water while eight cities — including Boston, Massachusetts; Phoenix, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington; — were relieved that tests showed no detections.

“We didn’t think we’d find anything because our water comes from a pristine source, but after the AP stories we wanted to make sure and reassure our customers,” said Andy Ryan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.

The substances detected in the latest tests mirrored those cited in the earlier AP report.

Chicago, Illinois, for example, found a cholesterol medication and a nicotine derivative. Many cities found the anti-convulsant carbamazepine. Officials in one of those communities, Colorado Springs, say they detected five pharmaceuticals in all, including a tranquilizer and a hormone.

“This is obviously an emerging issue and after the AP stories came out we felt it was the responsible thing for us to do, as a utility, to find out where we stand. We believe that at these levels, based on current science, that the water is completely safe for our customers,” said Colorado Springs spokesman Steve Berry. “We don’t want to create unnecessary alarm, but at the same time we have a responsibility as a municipal utility to communicate with our customers and let them know.”

Fargo, North Dakota’s water director, Bruce Grubb, said the concentrations of three drugs detected there were so incredibly minute — parts per trillion — that he sent them to the local health officer to figure out how to interpret the information for the community.

“We plan to put this into some kind of context other than just scientific nomenclature, so folks can get some level of understanding about what it means,” said Grubb.

The drug residues detected in water supplies are generally flushed into sewers and waterways through human excretion. Many of the pharmaceuticals are known to slip through sewage and drinking water treatment plants.

While the comprehensive risks are still unclear, researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild and impair the workings of human cells in the laboratory.

And while the new survey expands the known extent of the problem, the overwhelming majority of U.S. communities have yet to test, including the single largest water provider in the country, New York City‘s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

In April, New York City council members insisted during an emergency hearing that their drinking water be tested. But DEP officials subsequently declared that “the testing of finished tap water is not warranted at this time.”

RiverKeepers News:

12 09 2008

UCR’s 14th Annual Patron Appreciation Dinner will be Wednesday, September 24, at Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. Tickets may be purchased through Sunday, September 21. Join us as we honor Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., with our prestigious River Guardian Award for its critical contribution to the creation of Tapped Out (see story below). Other awards will go to the Vasser Woolley Foundation, SweetWater Brewing Company, and the six other Georgia Riverkeepers.

For a preview of live and silent auction items, click here. For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, click here.

Tapped Out Workshops Available

Are you part of a club, community organization or business group that would like to learn more about north Georgia’s water crisis and what can be done to address our water supply problems? Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is offering power point presentations of Tapped Out: The Drying Up of Atlanta, including follow-up discussion tailored to the group’s interests, free of charge.
Lake Lanier, Summer 2007 – by Tom Wilson

To find out more about Tapped Out and how to schedule a presentation for this fall or winter, please go to www.chattahoochee.org/tappedout.

Four More Days Left in All At Once Campaign – Please Give!

Through September 14 the nonprofit group All At Once will be matching contributions made to UCR through our All At Once campaign page (click here). Please consider making an online gift to UCR today through this page – $10, $25, $100 – whatever fits your budget! Your gift will help us protect our river and our water supply.

Make Your Voice Heard On Election Day!

Are you registered to vote? If not, or if you need to update your registration information, you can download a registration form online here. The last day to register is Monday, October 6.

Also, please consider voting in advance in the week before Election Day (November 4), Monday, October 27 – Friday, October 31st. Find out about the early voting locations in your county from your county registrar.

Detailed information about voting by mail or advance voting is available from the Georgia Secretary of State Elections Division online or by phone at (404) 656 -2871.

Georgia Farmers’ Sewage Sludge Suit Starts Flowing

12 09 2008


Jasmin Melvin | WASHINGTON (Reuters)

The Center for Food Safety, a private advocacy group, said Thursday it plans to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its refusal to put a moratorium on dumping sewage sludge on farmland.

The use of sludge, the byproduct of waste water treatment, on farmland is legal under EPA regulations. Six dozen food and consumer groups want to halt the practice.

The groups petitioned the EPA in October 2003 to stop sewage sludge disposal on farms. The EPA denied the petition for a moratorium.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency “does not comment on lawsuits we have not seen or have not been filed.”

Sewage sludge can contain nutrients and organic matter, which some say make it a useful fertilizer. Proponents view its disposal on farms as a cheap source of fertilizer that keeps wastes from piling up in landfills or being dumped in the ocean.

Research shows sludge also contains a harmful mix of heavy metals, pathogens and toxic chemicals that have killed farm animals, devastated crop yields and inflicted serious illness and health disorders on people who live and work near dump sites, Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said.

“We’re pretty sure the court will declare that EPA acted illegally in denying our petition,” Kimbrell said.

The EPA determined there was not enough scientific evidence to support claims of harm to farm animals, crops and people in its decision to reject the petition.

Since then, the data used to make this conclusion has come under question.

In a lawsuit filed by Georgia farmer Andy McElmurray, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo found that “senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent and any questioning of EPA’s biosolids program.”

The judge ruled in February that McElmurray was entitled to Agriculture Department “prevented planting” subsidies because of contamination of his farm by sewage sludge. Alaimo called data used to support EPA’s Part 503(b) sludge regulations “fudged,” “fabricated” and “fraudulent.”

Kimbrell said, “Now we have a judicial decision behind us so we can go, fairly confident, to the court and say this denial was based on bad science.”

Read on here.

Senate cancels hearing on Georgia sludge findings

12 09 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democrats abruptly canceled a hearing on using sewage sludge as farm fertilizer after learning that two witnesses from Georgia had cited their upcoming testimony at the hearing in trying to win a settlement in a lawsuit.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been scheduled on Thursday to hear testimony from an Augusta-area farmer and a former federal scientist who have fought the Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Georgia over the safety of using sludge on farm fields.

The farmer, Andy McElmurray, and the scientist, David Lewis, are suing the University of Georgia Research Foundation and others, alleging that UGA research was part of a scheme by the EPA to justify a federal policy allowing the continued use of sludge as fertilizer.

A spokeswoman for the committee said the hearing was canceled out of concern that the private litigation would distract from the main issue of sludge safety. She said Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., plans to reschedule the session.

Read on here.