Products' Impact on Water Quality Explored

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expanding a recent fish tissue pilot study to sample nationally to determine whether residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products are present in fish and waterways; developing a methodology to establish water quality criteria to protect aquatic life; and conducting studies to examine the potential occurrence of personal care products in sewage sludge and wastewater.

The agency has developed analytical methods capable of detecting various pharmaceuticals, steroids and hormones at very low levels. The EPA also is participating in an international effort with the World Health Organization to study appropriate risk assessment methods for pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants.

All these actions reflect advice the agency sought from a broad range of stakeholders including environmental and public health groups, drinking water and wastewater utilities, state water and public health agencies and the agricultural community. The EPA’s four-pronged approach for PPCPs in water is aimed at strengthening scientific knowledge; improving public understanding; building partnerships for stewardship; and taking regulatory action when appropriate.

The EPA is seeking comment on an ICR that will be used in a detailed study of unused pharmaceutical disposal methods by hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and veterinary hospitals. The EPA is seeking more information on the practices of the health care industry to inform future potential regulatory actions and identify best management and proper disposal practices. This is one of several actions the agency is taking to strengthen its understanding of disposal practices and potential risks from pharmaceuticals in water.

The agency is also commissioning the National Academy of Sciences to provide scientific advice on the potential risk to human health from low levels of pharmaceutical residues in drinking water. The National Academy of Sciences will convene a workshop of scientific experts Dec. 11-12, 2008, to advise the agency on methods for screening and prioritizing pharmaceuticals to determine potential risk. The EPA will accept public comments on the health care industry ICR for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register. For more information, visit

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