Risk Management on Tap
Preparing for the Impact of Pharmaceuticals
and Endocrine Disruptors in Drinking Water
Virginia’s largest water utility faced many
challenges in its half-century history, but
none quite like this.
of pharmaceuticals and chemicals used in
personal care products such as shampoos
and perfumes (PPCPs).
Six years ago, the USGS discovered
transgender fish swimming in the Potomac
River. In the very source waters for Fairfax
Water’s 1. 5 million customers, male bass
were carrying female eggs.
Had the chemicals that caused these
intersex fish been found in treated
drinking water, too? Were customers
at risk of exposure?
In response to this bizarre news, a local
water utility communicated with officials,
gathered Water Research Foundation
studies, and began a regional water
Although the earliest reports of these
compounds in water date back 30 years,
within the past few years EDCs and PPCPs
have drawn widespread water utility and
public awareness. In 2008, the Associated
Press reported that tiny amounts of
antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood
stabilizers, and sex hormones had been
found in 41 million Americans’ tap water.
The investigation found herbicides and
pesticides in source water as well.
A year later, the USEPA said it would revisit
acceptable limits of atrazine, a widely
used agricultural herbicide and one of the
most frequently occurring source water
Scientists found the probable cause of the
intersex fish to be minute quantities of
EDCs, chemicals that may interfere with the
normal functioning of endocrine systems of
fish, amphibians, and mammals.
When the water supplier built a new
treatment plant, it employed technologies
known to more effectively remove EDCs
from water, technologies tested and proved
by the Foundation.
This water utility is not alone. A growing
number of water suppliers are facing
public scrutiny over trace levels of EDCs
in drinking water, as well as trace amounts
“After years of delay, EPA is aggressively
moving forward by ordering the testing of a
number of pesticide chemicals for hormone
effects,” Steve Owens, assistant administrator
of the agency’s Office of Prevention,
Pesticides and Toxic Substances told
Environment & Energy Daily in late October.
The Foundation has been researching EDCs
and PPCPs in drinking water for 10 years.
Given the growing interest, we established
a Strategic Research Initiative in early 2007
to study the occurrence and control of
these trace compounds. Our initiative funds
research into testing and treatment options
for EDCs and PPCPs. And we are helping
utilities communicate about the issues.
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