EPA Expands Study of Pharmaceuticals in Waterways

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 5:18 PM CDT
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EPA Expands Study of Pharmaceuticals in Waterways

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2008 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to conduct a detailed study of the disposal methods used by hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and veterinary hospitals that wish to discard unused pharmaceuticals.

The EPA is seeking more information on the practices of the health care industry to inform future potential regulatory actions, and identify best management and proper disposal practices.

EPA has assumed that one facility in seven, approximately 3,500 facilities, would be selected to receive the detailed questionnaire.

To gather this information, the agency has drafted an Information Collection Request and is now seeking public input on the request form. Public comments on the Health Care Industry ICR will be taken for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which should occur shortly.

Drugs taken for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems contaminate U.S. waterways, according to a March 2008 report by the Associated Press National Investigation Team. The findings confirm a 2002 report by the U.S. Geological Survey that was the first nationwide study of pharmaceutical pollution in the nation's rivers and streams.

The questionnaire is one of several actions the agency is taking to strengthen its understanding of disposal practices and potential risks from pharmaceuticals in water.

The agency also is commissioning the National Academy of Sciences to provide scientific advice on the potential risk to human health from low levels of pharmaceutical residues in drinking water.

The Academy will convene a workshop of scientific experts December 11-12, to advise the agency on methods for screening and prioritizing pharmaceuticals to determine potential risk.

"The agency's work to increase industry stewardship and scientific understanding of pharmaceuticals in water continues," said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water.

"By reaching out to the National Academy of Sciences and requesting information from the health care industry, EPA is taking important steps to enhance its efforts," he said.

The EPA is also expanding a recent fish tissue pilot study to include samples from across the country to determine whether residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products may be present in waterways and the fish that inhabit them.

Grumbles says the agency is developing a methodology to establish water quality criteria to protect aquatic life and is conducting studies to examine the potential occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in sewage sludge and wastewater.

The agency has developed analytical methods capable of detecting pharmaceuticals, steroids and hormones at very low levels, he says.

The EPA also is participating in an international effort with the World Health Organization to study appropriate risk assessment methods for pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants.

All these actions reflect advice the agency sought and received from a broad range of stakeholders including environmental and public health groups, drinking water and wastewater utilities, state water and public health agencies, and the agricultural community.

Grumbles says that the EPA's approach to learning about pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water is aimed at strengthening scientific knowledge, improving public understanding, building partnerships for stewardship, and taking regulatory action when appropriate.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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