Phila. water chief sets record straight

April 15, 2008 9:41:28 AM PDT
Water Commissioner says drugs in water not as bad as first thought.

Just last month a report came out... Showing trace amounts of drugs in our drinking water.

But today at a public hearing.... Philadelphia water officials say while it *is a concern... It is not a public health crisis.

The water commissioner *first set the numbers straight. It was reported that 56 out of 75 by-products of drugs were found in the drinking water.... But he says that number is really 17.

City Water Commissioner Bernard Brunwasser says, "What Philadelphia ultimately found in its drinking water and source water is very similar to what is found all over the country."

And he says for a person to ingest even an infant dose of tylenol from the water....they would have to drink eight glasses a day for 40-thousand years.

City leaders pressed Monday for less government secrecy and stronger action to deal with the presence of trace pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies, as communities across the nation continue to voice unease over these contaminants.

"It really is time for the national government to step up and say, `This is the national standard.' When you don't do that, you get what you get - and this is unacceptable," declared Blondell Reynolds Brown, a city councilwoman.

Brown, who made her appeal during a City Council committee hearing, was referring to an Associated Press investigative series last month that detailed how minute concentrations of prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, including those served by the Philadelphia Water Department.

During the hearing, Christopher S. Crockett, Philadelphia Water Department's research director, promised to share more details of future findings with the public, interested environmental groups and governmental agencies.

Council members said they were upset to learn from the AP stories, instead of local water officials, that the city's water carries more pharmaceuticals than any of the 24 major metropolitan areas that tested positive.

"Our concerns stem from the fact that the water department did not inform city residents," committee chairwoman Marian B. Tasco told Crockett and other water department administrators. She said the news report set off a local firestorm.

Around this city, tests have revealed 17 different drugs or byproducts in the drinking system and 32 in the watershed - the highest numbers detected in drinking water and watershed of any of the metropolitan areas surveyed by the AP. Water department officials recently revealed they had originally provided higher numbers of detections due to a clerical error.

Water officials said the concentrations are minute, measured in parts per trillion, way below medical doses.

But because there are no known ways to remove drug by-products from the water... The water commissioner says they fully support more research.

Council members encouraged the water department to pursue programs to take back unused drugs, so they aren't intentionally flushed down the toilet directly into sewage and waterways. The water department said it would cooperate with a pilot program along those lines at four senior centers in coming months.

Human and veterinary pharmaceuticals can enter waterways from farm runoff and toilets, where people excrete unabsorbed medicine or throw away unused drugs. Water providers around the country rarely inform the public when drug traces are detected.

The AP series, which Brunwasser praised for "directing attention to this emerging science," has spurred a series of calls for action in Congress and around the country. Illinois announced it will start a water testing program, and the New York City Council held an emergency hearing. A panel of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works plans to hold a hearing Tuesday to assess risk and national remedies.