Posted by Matt Dempsey (4:24 ET)

EPA Responds to Inhofe Letter on The Safety Of Our Nation’s Drinking Water Supply

Following a March 10, 2008, Associated Press article reporting that traces of pharmaceutical contaminants were found in municipal water systems across the country, Senator Inhofe sent a letter to Administrator Johnson expressing his concern about the report and asking EPA to convene a working group of relevant agencies and industry to look for potential solutions to reduce overall pharmaceuticals in our water supply. 

On April 4, Assistant Administrator for Water, Benjamin H. Grumbles, sent this letter in response. Mr. Grumbles pointed out that, “[a]lthough the Associated Press series brought broad attention to this issue, EPA has been working with other agencies and stakeholders over the past several years to better understand the implications of emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and other personal care products that are detected in our waters.” He also pointed out that, “while there is much information about the health effects of pharmaceutical products at the therapeutic doses provided in medication, there is still uncertainty about their potential effects on public health and aquatic life from long-term exposure to the low levels observed in water. In the absence of fully understanding the risks associated with low levels, it is difficult to move forward to require monitoring and/or treatment that carry significant cost, particularly when the Agency also needs to carry out activities to address contaminants with known risk.”

The letter goes on to detail EPA’s activities that address pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water, including the cross government coordination of the Pharmaceuticals in the Environment working group, to research at the Office of Research and development to working with the White House Office on National Drug Control policy to help with disposal guidelines.

Tomorrow, April 15, 2008, at 3:00pm ET [Note the Time Change], Assistant Administrator Grumbles will appear before the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality hearing entitled, Pharmaceuticals in the Nation’s Water: Assessing Potential Risks and Actions to Address the Issue.” Tomorrow’s hearing should provide Grumbles the opportunity to expand on the issue in more detail. Also testifying at the hearing tomorrow:  Dr. Robert Hirsch, Associate Director for Water, U.S. Geological Survey. The witnesses also include: Jennifer Sass Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council; Alan Goldhammer Ph.D., Deputy Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Shane Snyder Ph.D., R&D Project Manager, Applied Research and Development Center, Southern Nevada Water Authority; and David Pringle, Campaign Director, New Jersey Environmental Federation.