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Study tests for drugs in Tennessee River system

Study tests for drugs in Tennessee River system

Posted: Monday, September 15, 2008 8:21 pm
By: AP

 

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — At least 13 common drugs, including caffeine, several antibiotics, antidepressants and substances that lower human cholesterol levels, were found in test samples of Tennessee River, according to a study. Sean Richards, a professor of biological and environmental sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is taking the samples as part of a study conducted with another UTC professor to gauge pharmaceutical concentrations. A landmark study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2002 and an Associated Press investigation last March delved into the issue, but neither included studies in Tennessee. The UTC team has spent 2 1/2 years analyzing river water samples from Knoxville to Chattanooga. Richards said so far the drugs have been detected in minuscule proportions, the same as in other areas of the country. As in other studies, the pharmaceuticals were measured in parts per trillion in the local study. “Everyone’s worried about pesticides in the water, but the amount of pharmaceuticals that get dumped in the water via just taking them is going to equal or exceed that of pesticides,” Richards said. “You have to wonder what it’s doing to the ecosystem. If we’re upsetting the balance in any way, it can’t be perceived as a good thing.” Environmental Protection Agency officials have said they believe the water supply is safe, but are looking into water standards for pharmaceuticals. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet set drinking water standards for (pharmaceuticals) at this time, and utilities are not required to test for them,” Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said in a written statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. But the EPA isn’t ready to take action until scientists are sure about the potential dangers involved, said Suzanne Rudzinski, deputy director for science and technology in the agency’s Office of Water. “We believe the water supply is safe,” Rudzinski said, “We want to figure out what’s going on, and then if it’s appropriate, take action.” The EPA is collecting information from health care facilities about how they are disposing of drugs and trying to educate the public about proper disposal procedures at home to avoid unnecessary dumping. That would reduce but not eliminate the problem, which persists because drugs are excreted naturally into the sewer system through toilets, sinks and showers, according to Christian Daughton, a research scientist with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. EPA researchers are looking more closely at which pharmaceuticals might be present in sewage sludge and also sampling fish tissues from 154 sites across the country for toxicology testing, including a site on the Tennessee River downstream from Chattanooga, according to EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones. Those results will not be available until late 2010 or early 2011. Published in The Messenger 9.15.08

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