Drugs in Drinking Water Nothing New

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A wire service investigation that reported pharmaceuticals in water supplies across the country is raising questions about Southland water. KPCC's Molly Peterson says we've had drugs in our drinking water as long as we've had the drugs.

Molly Peterson: A lot of Southern Californians get their water from the Mighty Met: the Metropolitan Water District. That utility tested its water two years ago for pharmaceuticals. Now officials say it's found nine drug compounds in its untreated water, at a level of less than a hundred parts per trillion. At a committee meeting, MWD Water Quality Director Mic Stewart urged everyone to place that into perspective.

Mic Stewart: If you filled the Rose Bowl full of water and added about 10 drops, that's parts per trillion. It's really quite, quite low.

Peterson: So low it hasn't hit regulators' radar yet. No federal or state rules set acceptable levels for drugs in drinking water. Neither do they require testing. Stewart said the technology for tracking the pharmaceuticals is still new and expensive.

Stewart: There's very few laboratories that are capable of doing this yet, and matter of fact, the methodology is more experimental than standard. It's very complex analytically to detect these things at parts per trillion.

Peterson: He says that after treatment, the agency did find an anti-anxiety drug and another used to control seizures at that parts per trillion level. Stewarts says the Metropolitan Water District will continue to test its supplies, and to seek financial support to do so. The issue's on Congress's radar now; Senator Barbara Boxer says she plans next month to convene hearings on drugs in drinking water.