Illinois to strengthen drinking water protections

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Following reports that found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the US’s drinking water, Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) is expanding its current monitoring of water quality to include sampling to determine levels of pharmaceuticals that may be in Illinois waterways.

The Illinois EPA also will promote additional alternatives to dispose of over-the-counter, prescription drugs and personal care products to ultimately reduce the amount of unregulated chemicals in drinking water systems.

This week, the Associated Press reported the results of a five-month-long inquiry that found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas – from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky. Even though the U.S. Geological Survey’s research finds that the concentrations of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies are likely far below levels to prompt public health concerns, the Governor directed the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to further assess the effects of these substances on human health.

“Safe drinking water is the highest priority. Even though reports indicate the concentration of unregulated chemicals found in the nation’s water sources was low, we can’t take any chances. The additional research we do now and the steps we take today will help us further protect our health and the health of our children,” said Gov. Blagojevich.

While there are no federal standards regulating pharmaceuticals in drinking water, the Illinois EPA will expand its testing of water supplies through a partnership with the City of Chicago to better determine the presence of such chemicals in the city’s drinking water. Illinois EPA will also offer testing to communities downstream from wastewater treatment plants that may be affected.

Within the next few weeks, Illinois EPA will begin collecting samples of treated and untreated water from participating water systems and will coordinate laboratory analysis to determine the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water supplies. Both the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health will review the lab results to assess any possible risk to public health.

“While Illinois’ drinking water is safe and there is no cause for immediate concern, the Illinois EPA will assess the scope of the presence of pharmaceuticals in our waterways to ensure that our drinking water supplies are adequately protected,” said Director Scott. “We will also push for further study to determine the health effects of low-level exposure to these substances. At the same time, the Illinois EPA will continue to offer safe disposal methods to keep the medications and other products we rely on to improve our health out of our drinking water supplies.”

In addition to expanded testing, the Illinois EPA will continue to push for more evaluation of the human health effects of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies. At a Great Lakes meeting planned for later this month in Indianapolis, Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott will work with other Great Lakes state environmental officials to call for more federal evaluation of these chemicals. The Illinois EPA will assist U.S. EPA in developing any new regulations under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act needed to protect public health.

The Illinois EPA will also expand a pharmaceutical disposal program it launched last summer with several county health departments to collect old and unwanted pharmaceuticals. As part of the current pilot program, solid waste agencies in Kendall, Will, Knox and McDonough and the City of Galesburg collect unused drugs from senior centers, retirement complexes, and convalescent centers in their areas. The Illinois EPA provides the disposal containers to the counties. Since the pilot program launched, Illinois EPA has removed six 30-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals from the environment through the four pilot programs.

The Illinois EPA will invite Cook County and City of Chicago to join the collection program, and encourage other county solid waste agencies to create similar drug collection programs to prevent drugs from being flushed down the drain and possibly ending up in drinking water supplies. Illinois EPA will provide technical assistance to any solid waste agency interested in creating such a program.

In addition, Illinois EPA will continue collecting unused pharmaceuticals at its household hazardous waste collection event, which are held across the state each spring and fall. Residents are advised to save all old or unwanted medications for an Illinois EPA-sponsored household hazardous waste collection. At such an event last year, seven 55-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals were collected and properly disposed.

The Illinois EPA advises people to not flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet or pour them down the drain because wastewater treatment plants and septic systems are not designed to treat pharmaceutical waste and the drugs often end up in our waterways, and ultimately in our drinking water. Instead, residents should save old or unwanted medications for an Illinois EPA sponsored household hazardous waste collection.

In the event that citizens cannot attend one of the Agency’s Household Hazardous Waste collections, four permanent household hazardous waste collection facilities in Rockford, Naperville, Chicago and Lake County also accept pharmaceutical waste. In addition, many hospitals, pharmacies and police departments also offer programs to collect and dispose of unwanted drugs.

To discourage illegal and unsafe ingestion of discarded pharmaceuticals, the state encourages people remove unused or unneeded drugs from their original containers, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in non-descript impermeable containers, such as empty cans.

Source: Illinois Government, USA

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