"We're very concerned about this information," Grumbles told the
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He said the agency has
developed a draft list of drugs that it will consider for new limits under the
Clean Drinking Water Act.
Only one prescription drug, nitroglycerin, is currently regulated under the
act. But a report by the Associated Press last month found evidence of trace
amounts of hundreds of drugs in drinking water consumed by up to 41 million
The EPA's pledge to develop a draft list of drugs for testing did not
impress the panel's Democrats. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee's
chairwoman, said a 2002 court order already compelled the EPA to compile a list
of drugs that could disrupt hormone functioning in humans.
"Six years behind schedule," Boxer said. "This all means that
pharmaceuticals in our water may have a disproportionate effect on pregnant women and children."
Grumbles said the agency is "not alarmed in terms of a risk to human
health" from consuming water tainted with pharmaceuticals. He said
"lots of pharmaceuticals" are found in drinking water but that they are
in trace amounts.
But Robert Hirsch, associate director for water at the U.S. Geological
Survey, said there was no way to be sure if long-term exposure to even trace
amounts of drugs in water was harmful.
"The potential human health effects of low-level pharmaceuticals are not
well understood and they warrant further study," Hirsch said.
Drugs are thought to enter the water supply mostly after being excreted by
humans and flowing through sewer systems. Some are also introduced when they
are discarded down toilets or sinks.
Grumbles said his agency discourages flushing unused drugs down toilets.
Instead, drugs should be mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds and thrown
in the trash, he said.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends on its
web site that only controlled substances, such as OxyContin, be flushed down the toilet.
Boxer criticized the agency for proposing to cut by 35% its budget for
testing water for hormone-disrupting agents.