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Boxer, Lautenberg Ask EPA Administrator for Plans for Protecting Communities from Drugs Detected in Drinking Water
March 18, 2008

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality, wrote to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to demand information on the EPA's current activities and future plans for dealing with the issue of pharmaceutical pollution in drinking water supplies. The Senators sent the letter in advance of an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the issue slated for early April.

Senator Boxer said: "The public has a right to know what EPA is doing now to protect our families and communities from drugs in our drinking water, and what they are planning to do to address this problem in the future."

Senator Lautenberg said: "Our families deserve water that is clean and safe. I am deeply concerned by the findings of this study showing traces of drugs in the water in New Jersey and across the nation. We look forward to hearing from the EPA about how they plan to protect our residents and clean up our water supply."

Complete text of the letter follows:

March 18, 2008

Honorable Stephen Johnson
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington DC 20460

Dear Administrator Johnson:

As you know, a recent investigation by Associated Press (AP) found that "a vast array of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones" are found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans in 24 cities, at levels in the parts per billion or parts per trillion range. According to the review, cities all over the United States including in California and New Jersey, were affected.

In addition, as you are aware, the U.S. Geological Survey has been testing for drugs and personal care products in our water resources, and has found widespread contamination with these chemicals at levels similar to those that AP reported.

EPA's website acknowledges that "the major concerns have been the resistance to antibiotics and disruption of aquatic endocrine systems (the system of glands that produce hormones that help control the body's metabolic activity) by natural and synthetic sex steroids...." The website also says there "are no known human health effects from such low-level exposures in drinking water, but special scenarios (one example being fetal exposure to low levels of medications that a mother would ordinarily be avoiding) require more investigation." EPA has further noted that "in addition to antibiotics and steroids, over 100 individual [pharmaceuticals and personal care products] have been identified (as of 2007) in environmental samples and drinking water."

EPA must take all necessary steps to protect the health of America's children and families from these risks. We understand that you have numerous authorities available to pursue this issue. Please provide to us, no later than April 4, 2008, a detailed summary of EPA's plans to respond to the issue of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in our water resources and drinking water. Specifically, what are EPA's plans for gathering existing data, conducting research, monitoring and requiring public disclosure of levels of these chemicals in water, setting standards for these chemicals, reducing inappropriate disposal of these chemicals, and testing and addressing treatment of sewage and sludge for these chemicals? We appreciate your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please contact Erik Olson of the Committee staff (202-224-8832; erik_olson@epw.senate.gov), or Arvin Ganesan of Senator Lautenberg's staff (202-224-3224; arvin_ganesan@lautenberg.senate.gov).

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
Chairman,
Committee on Environment and Public Works

Frank R. Lautenberg
Chairman,
Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality

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Majority Office
410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-8832
Minority Office
456 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-6176