Residential Pipe Care During Drinking Water Week 2017

Pharmaceuticals should never be flushed down a toilet.

As Drinking Water Week continues, Tata & Howard joins the American Water Works Association and water professionals across North America in encouraging householders to care for their homes’ pipes. Many things can unnecessarily clog a home’s plumbing system, including “flushable” wipes, as well as fats, oils, and grease. Each year, these clog pipes, back up systems, and harm the environment when they aren’t disposed of properly.

Specifically, flushable wipes, facial tissue, paper towels, and medications should be thrown away in the trash and should never be flushed down the toilet. Also, fats, oil, and grease should not be dumped down the drain. Instead, they should also be thrown away in the trash.

“Caring for our pipes should be considered maintenance around the home and not just thought of when something goes wrong with them,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “We have to do our part not to clog up our already precarious water and wastewater systems.”

More information on caring for pipes can be found on

About Drinking Water Week

For more than 35 years, AWWA and its members have celebrated Drinking Water Week, a unique opportunity for both water professionals and the communities they serve to join together to recognize the vital role water plays in daily lives.

PPCPs and EDCs in Drinking Water – Is There a Solution?

PPCPs-drinking-waterModern-day, developed nations use an exorbitant amount of chemicals for a variety of reasons. Some of these chemicals are used to prevent and treat illness, to reduce pain from injury or surgery, to treat mental health issues, and for hygiene, grooming, and cosmetic reasons. Commonly referred to as Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products, or PPCPs, these products include prescription and over-the-counter medications, cosmetics, fragrances, face and body washes, sunscreens, insect repellants, and lotions.

In addition to PPCPs are endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). The endocrine system is an intricate network of glands including the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal, pancreas, thymus, and reproductive organs that release precise amounts of hormones into the bloodstream in order to regulate essential biological functions in humans and animals such as growth, development, reproduction, and metabolism. EDCs are any external natural or synthetic compounds capable of interfering with the body’s endocrine system by disrupting the synthesis, secretion, transport, bonding, or elimination of natural bodily hormones.

Effects of PPCPs and EDCs in Water

prescription-drugs-waterPPCPs and EDCs enter our waterways through sewage, leachate from landfills and septic systems, flushing of unused medications, and agricultural runoff, and they have the potential to cause a myriad of problems. While there has not yet been a truly significant amount of research completed on all of these products and chemicals, some facts are known. For example, excessive antibiotic use has led to the development of “superbugs,” or bacteria such as MRSA that are resistant to most antibiotics. Methadone reacts with chloramine, a chemical used to treat drinking water, to form N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a known carcinogen. EDCs interfere with the endocrine system, potentially causing reproductive, developmental, neurological, and immunologic problems in both humans and wildlife.

US-drug-useSome of the most common EDCs in drinking water include estrogen and progesterone from birth control pills, as well as anabolic steroids. These compounds interfere with the reproductive capabilities of aquatic wildlife. Examples include eggshell thinning and subsequent reproductive failure of waterfowl; reduced populations of Baltic seals due to lower fertility and increased miscarriage; development of male reproductive organs in female marine animals, such as snails; feminization and subsequent decreased populations of certain types of fish, including bass; and reduced or malformed frog populations.

Regulating PPCPs and EDCs in Drinking Water

feminization-fishCurrently, most PPCPs and EDCs are not regulated at either the state or federal level; however, they are being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as Contaminants of Emerging Concern. Because PPCPs and EDCs appear to hinder reproduction in marine life, many state environmental organizations strongly support additional research and potential regulation on these compounds. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to set drinking water and cleanup standards for the known EDC perchlorate after it had been detected in the state’s drinking water, and many states have implemented public education campaigns on these compounds, their effects, and their proper disposal.

Treating PPCPs and EDCs in Drinking Water

Currently, there are no treatment processes specifically designed to remove PPCPs or EDCs from drinking water; however, research is currently underway at the national level to determine the effectiveness of existing drinking water treatment technologies, such as chlorination, carbon filtration, and ozonation, on the removal of PPCPs and EDCs. In addition, several new, innovative technologies that specifically target PPCPs and EDCs for removal have shown promise. One example utilizes a catalyst called TAML(r), which is iron plus tetra-amido macrocyclic ligand, to remove PPCPs and EDCs from wastewater, while another utilizes zeolite adsorption to remove PPCPs and EDCs from water.

How We All Can Help Reduce PPCPs and EDCs in the Environment

drug-take-back-stateOn an individual level, taking small, simple steps can have a large impact on the amount of PPCPs and EDCs in our water supply:

  • Ask your health care provider to prescribe no more than the sufficient, effective quantity of medication, or consider a trial prescription before filling the full 30- to 90-day supply;
  • Buy OTC medications in small enough quantities that can be used before the expiration date;
  • Return all unused medications to pharmaceutical take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal;
  • If a community take-back location is unavailable, remove unused or expired prescription medications from their original containers and throw them in the trash – never flush! To discourage abuse of certain types of dangerous medications such as narcotics, crush the pills and mix them with old bacon grease or other food waste.

In Conclusion

The problem of PPCPs and EDCs in drinking water does not appear to be going away any time soon. In order to mitigate damage caused to both humanity and the environment, additional research and focus must be placed on these compounds. It is imperative that we implement additional regulations, engineer innovative and cost-effective treatment technologies, increase funding to upgrade infrastructure, and reduce our personal contributions of PPCPs and EDCs to the environment.

Drugs in Drinking Water

Prescription_pills_spillingPharmaceuticals (prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary drugs) and personal care products (products such as cleansers, fragrances, and cosmetics used for personal reasons) in drinking water have been a subject of much concern recently. Studies have shown that a myriad of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, anabolic steroids, anti-anxiety medications, hormones, and anti-seizure medications have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 major metropolitan areas, from east coast to west coast. And while these numbers alone are alarming, they represent only a very small portion of the problem.

In addition to pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), studies have found that illicit drugs are also in our drinking water. Drugs detected include cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), opioids, cannabinoids, and amphetamines, which have been found in sewage wastewaters, sewage sludge, surface waters, and drinking water. All of these drugs have potent pharmacological activities, and it is therefore generally believed that they have adverse effects on human health and the environment, including aquatic organisms.

How did they get there?

DrinkingWaterSupplyArea_bluesign1People take drugs, and their bodies absorb only a portion of what they ingest. The rest is excreted and flushed down the toilet, where it makes its way to wastewater treatment facilities. The wastewater undergoes a treatment process to remove nutrients and bacteria before it is discharged back into surface waters, including reservoirs, lakes, and streams, which in turn feed municipal water treatment plants for distribution. And there are no treatment processes specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals or drugs from wastewater. Even more alarming, many widely prescribed medications such as anti-epileptic medications, tranquilizers, and cholesterol fighters actually resist most existing treatment processes, save two. Reverse osmosis, a treatment technology which forces water through a membrane filter, successfully removes all pharmaceuticals, but is prohibitively expensive for large-scale use and wastes several gallons of polluted water for each one made drinkable. Activated charcoal, which filters organic matter and drugs from wastewater, is a better treatment option because it doesn’t waste water like reverse osmosis does. Unfortunately, it is still extremely expensive to install.

There is no way to determine the effects of drugs in drinking water because there is no regulation over the presence of most drugs, illicit or otherwise, in treated wastewater, surface water, or drinking water. Also, there are no studies that monitor the long-term effects of low-dose drugs on human health. However, given the very nature of pharmaceuticals — they are meant to be active in small doses — it is highly likely that their presence in our nation’s water supply is not without effect. “These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That’s what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects,” noted zoologist John Sumpter of Brunel University in London.

The methadone problem

MethadoneThere is, however, one drug that is definitively known to be extremely problematic: methadone. Used in the treatment of our nation’s epidemic heroin problem as well as for chronic pain disorders, methadone is prescribed over four million times annually — and that number is rising. Approximately 28% of ingested methadone is not absorbed by the body but is instead excreted in urine, ending up in our wastewater. A common chemical used in water  treatment is chloramine (not to be confused with chlorine). In fact, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population drinks water treated with chloramine disinfectants. Methadone reacts with chloramine to form N-nitrosodimethylamine, or “NDMA” for short, which the World Health Organization has labeled “clearly carcinogenic” because of its ability to cause stomach, liver, and colon cancer after being ingested.

“NDMA is a very potent carcinogen,” commented environmental chemist Susan Richardson of the University of South Carolina. “It’s being commonly found in drinking water well above the health reference level for cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently deciding whether to regulate it.”

Considering half of the drinking water samples obtained by an AP study were found to contain a level of NDMA that would be considered dangerous, it is no surprise that Massachusetts and California have already implemented regulations concerning NDMA, although they are the only two states in the nation to do so. In contrast, all of Canada has regulations in place fully banning NDMA. In the U.S., the decision might not be imminently forthcoming, as drugs in drinking water presents a unique challenge. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees drugs, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees environmental issues, so collaboration — and agreement — between the two organizations is necessary.

In conclusion

It seems unlikely that doctors will start prescribing fewer medications or that our nation’s illicit drug problem will cease to exist. Therefore, it is imperative that research is conducted and regulations put in place to protect the public from the health hazards caused by drugs in drinking water. Of course, with these regulations will come the need for improved infrastructure to comply, which in turn will require funding for already financially strained water and wastewater utilities. There is no easy answer. But one thing is certain: drugs in drinking water is an urgent national problem that needs to be promptly addressed.
Associated Press