EPA top water official: Meds-in-water worth review

September 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — The federal government”s top water quality official has acknowledged that critics who question whether the existing regulatory mechanism can handle complex chemical compounds found in drinking water supplies are correct to do so, according to a September 18 Associated Press (AP) report.

US Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles made the acknowledgement to AP investigative reporters following a September 16 Congressional subcommittee hearing in which pollution experts and lawmakers called for the EPA to update its water quality standards to address the trace levels of pharmaceuticals and other chemical compounds, such as those from personal care products, now detected in water supplies by newer technology.

During the hearing, Grumbles “balked at any immediate, sweeping upgrade of water standards. He told the panel more research and evaluation are needed now,” the AP reported. Grumbles summarized for the subcommittee a number of programs EPA now has under way to identify additional contaminants that may need regulation and to encourage health care facilities and individuals to properly dispose of pharmaceuticals.

Asked by the subcommittee to specify which water-contamination issue is most pressing, Grumbles replied that, if he had to choose one, it would be hormonal chemicals in pharmaceuticals that are contributing to sex changes in fish.

In an interview later, Grumbles told the AP, “It may be that there needs to be a more effective way to deal with the [chemical] mixtures.”

The subcommittee also heard testimony from the US Geological Survey, independent researchers and a representative of the professional association for wastewater treatment plant administrators.

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