Worries about drugs in the U.S. water supply increase

Published 17 March 2008

The annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology is being held in Seattle this week; among the major topics: Pharmaceuticals contaminating the U.S. water supply; 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries attend

We have written about the pharmaceuticals being washed into the U.S. water supply, and the worry scientists have about the long-term health effects this may cause (see HSDW story). This issue will be on top of the agenda of the more than 7,000 scientists and regulators from 45 countries who gather in Seattle this week. “The public has a right to know the answers to these questions,” Dr. George Corcoran, president of the Society of Toxicology, said this weekend. “Our vision is to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science of toxicology. That’s our reason for living.” The society, based in Reston, Virginia, is holding its annual meeting at the Washington State Convention Center, one week after the AP published an investigation that found tiny amounts of drugs — mostly residue excreted by people and flushed down the toilet — in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.

In addition to documenting the drugs found, the report discussed how little is known about whether there are long-term effects from having pharmaceuticals in the water supply. This is where toxicology comes in: The study of adverse effects of chemical, physical or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem. Scientists have known for several years that pharmaceuticals were entering the water, Corcoran said, and the Society of Toxicology found the issue important enough to discuss it at its annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, last year. Publicity surrounding the AP’s report — the governor of Illinois ordered waterways in that state screened for drugs, newspapers called for more rigorous testing, and U.S. senators prepared to hold hearings — has created a buzz for this year’s meeting. “Last year, there was a consensus: Yes, we need to do more on this, and this is something we have to watch,” Corcoran said. “The AP story has really put the spotlight on it, and it is going to lead to a pickup in the pace. People are going to start putting money into studying this now, instead of a few years from now, and we’ll get the answers sooner than we would have otherwise.”