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May 27, 2010


Farrell Sklerov / Michael Saucier (718) 595-6600

DEP Study Shows No Risk from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in NYC Drinking Water

Findings Confirm NYC Water is Safe and Healthy to Drink

Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway today announced that DEP has concluded a study that indicates that the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in New York City's source waters pose no public health risks. The one-year pilot program tested for the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in New York City's three upstate watersheds, finding only extremely minute quantities of these compounds. The findings confirm that NYC Water remains safe and healthy for the 9 million New Yorkers who rely on it each day.
"The findings of this study confirm that pharmaceuticals and personal care products do not pose a health risk in New York City's drinking water," said Commissioner Holloway. "Our top priority is to ensure the quality of the drinking water that nine million New Yorkers need every day, and we perform more than 500,000 tests each year to monitor water quality. Though there was never any indication that pharmaceuticals and personal care products presented a health or quality risk to our water supply, we undertook this study as part of our ongoing efforts to rigorously analyze all aspects of water quality. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are part of our daily lives, and the fact is traces of these products are present in the environment. We want to be sure that the presence of these products in our water supply did not rise to a level that impacts the quality of drinking water, and that is what this study shows. DEP will continue our rigorous and comprehensive monitoring every day, to ensure that we continue to deliver the healthy, great tasting water that New Yorkers expect."

"Our drinking water continues to be the cleanest, healthiest option for quenching New York City's thirst," said Dr. Thomas Farley, NYC Health Commissioner. "DEP's study should reassure anyone concerned about the presence of pharmaceutical or personal-care products in the water supply. The trace amounts documented in this study are far too small to affect people's health. The Health Department and the DEP will continue to work together to periodically monitor concentrations to ensure NYC tap water remains safe."

"When I first held a hearing on pharmaceuticals in drinking water in April of 2008, I was impressed at DEP's testimony which outlined the impressive and comprehensive testing program that it was formulating. Now that DEP has tested for various compounds down to the parts-per-trillion level and found nothing remarkable, water consumers can rest assured that the New York City water supply is of the highest quality," said Councilman James F. Gennaro, Chairman of the NYC Council's Committee on Environmental Protection.

Throughout 2009, DEP conducted quarterly tests at three source water locations in the Croton, Delaware, and Catskill watersheds to determine whether a target group of pharmaceutical and personal care products could be detected at any level in New York City's water supply. After collection, the samples were tested at two different laboratories in each of the four rounds of sampling during the year. The samples were tested for the presence of 78 compounds — including antibiotics, hormones, prescription medications and endocrine disrupting compounds. Of the 78 compounds tested, 16 pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) were detected at least once, and eight compounds were detected in three or more quarters of sampling. None of the 16 detected PPCP compounds were found at a concentration that would present a potential public health concern. In fact, all of the sixteen compounds identified were found in concentrations in the low parts-per-trillion—1,000 times lower than the minimum threshold for any of the target compounds that are regulated by the state or federal government.  The fact that a substance is detectable does not mean it is harmful. For example, a person would have to drink 846,000 glasses of water in a single day, approximately 90 years worth of drinking water, to get the dose contained in a single over-the-counter tablet of ibuprofen.

Pharmaceuticals have probably been present in water and the environment for as long as humans have been using them. Drugs that are consumed are not entirely absorbed and are excreted and passed into wastewater and surface water. Some pharmaceuticals are easily broken down and processed by the human body or degrade quickly in the environment, but others are not easily broken down and processed, so they enter sewers or septic systems. Externally applied medications and cosmetics can end up in the sewer as well, via showers and baths. Up until recently hospitals and other health care facilities have often flushed out-of-date or excess drugs down toilets. DEP is currently working with the state and our watershed partners to develop alternatives to disposing of unneeded medications that do not pose a threat to the water supply. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove solids, chemicals and microorganisms but not at miniscule concentrations.
In recent years, the issue of pharmaceuticals and personal care products as drinking water pollutants has received increasing attention. The pharmaceutical drugs of interest comprise a large range of emerging drinking water contaminants including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, antibiotics, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and other organic chemicals which are not completely treated by wastewater treatment plants.
The one-year pilot testing program, initiated in January 2009, focused on pharmaceuticals that have been detected in surface waters, groundwater and treated water discharged from wastewater treatment plants in national and regional studies conducted by the United States Geographical Survey and New York State Department of Health. The cost of the testing was $81,000. The testing was developed as a pilot because DEP needed to test new advanced and highly sensitive analytical methods to determine whether it could reliably detect pharmaceutical and personal care product compounds at very low levels of detection, as well as the need to use new sampling methods to prevent cross-contamination of samples. The results of this pilot study will be used to help assess the need for a continued program on emerging contaminants and to develop a more targeted program for subsequent years, if necessary. A summary of DEP's study can be found at 2009 Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCP) Report (PDF). Though the testing showed no evidence of risk, DEP will continue to monitor pharmaceutical and personal care products throughout this year, and as necessary beyond that.

The following 16 pharmaceuticals and personal care products were found in source waters at least once: Acetaminophen, Butalbital, Caffeine, Carbamazepine, cis-Testosterone, Cotinine, DEET, Diazepam, Estrone, Gemfibrozil, Ibuprofen, Lasalocid, Nicotine, Paraxanthine, Progesterone, and Sulfamethoxazole. The amount detected in each, measured in parts per trillion, was significantly lower than what is deemed to be safe by derived drinking water guidelines, a compilation of studies and reports that detail, in general, the maximum amount of a particular substance an individual can be exposed to on a daily basis without causing harmful effects.  One part per trillion is equal to one drop of water in 26 Olympic-size swimming pools. The chart below indicates the number of eight-ounce glasses of water per day it takes to reach an acceptable daily intake or get an effect from one of these compounds.

*detected sporadically in less than 50% of samples
NIA = No information available
Among the compounds that were tested for but not found were the following: Bacitracin, Ciprofloxacin, Naproxen, Penicillin G, Penicillin V, Phenylphenol, Testosterone, Triclosan, and Tylosin.
For most of these detected compounds, a person would have to drink thousands of glasses of water a day to get one effective dose of the substance or to meet a toxicity threshold. To get one dose of caffeine, or the amount contained in an 8-ounce cup of coffee, a person would have to drink 238,572,000 glasses of water. The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume roughly about 13 cups of total beverages a day and women consume about 9 cups of total beverages a day.
There are no state or federal mandatory testing or reporting requirements for pharmaceutical and personal care product compounds. New York State has generic standards for principal organic contaminants and for any single unspecified organic contaminant. The levels of PPCPs found in the New York City water supply were generally 500-10,000 fold less than these standards respectively. DEP monitors its drinking water for approximately 250 contaminants, approximately 100 of which are not currently required by regulators. DEP performs more than 900 tests daily, 27,000 monthly, and 330,000 on an annual basis from up to 1,000 sampling locations throughout New York City. This work is in addition to 230,000 tests performed in the watershed. There are no established methodologies for routine testing for or removing pharmaceuticals. Only very recently have advances in testing methods allowed researchers to even detect these substances at such minute levels.  Pharmaceuticals are not regulated as a class of contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the authorizing legislation for Federal drinking water standards.

To prevent pharmaceuticals and personal care products from entering water systems, unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs and other medications should be brought to a local pharmaceutical collection event for proper disposal or thrown in the trash by following the instructions and additional information found at www.dontflushyourdrugs.net.

DEP manages the City's water supply, providing more than 1 billion gallons of water each day to more than 9 million residents, including 8 million in New York City, and residents of Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties. New York City's water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the City, and comprises 19 reservoirs, and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,400 miles of sewer lines take wastewater to 14 in-City treatment plants.

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