Illinois Governor Orders State Waters Tested for Drugs
CHICAGO, Illinois, March 17, 2008 (ENS) - Following reports last week that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are contaminating the nation's drinking water, Governor Rod Blagojevich has directed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to expand its water quality monitoring to determine levels of pharmaceuticals that may be in Illinois waterways.

The Illinois EPA also will promote safe ways to dispose of over-the-counter, prescription drugs and personal care products to ultimately reduce the amount of unregulated chemicals in drinking water systems.

Even though the U.S. Geological Survey's research finds that the concentrations of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies are likely far below levels to prompt public health concerns, the governor directed the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to further assess the effects of these substances on human health.

"Safe drinking water is the highest priority. Even though reports indicate the concentration of unregulated chemicals found in the nation's water sources was low, we can't take any chances," said the governor. "The additional research we do now and the steps we take today will help us further protect our health and the health of our children."

Illinois waters will be tested for drugs. (Photo courtesy USGS)

While there are no federal standards regulating pharmaceuticals in drinking water, the Illinois EPA will expand its testing of water supplies through a partnership with the City of Chicago to better determine the presence of such chemicals in the city's drinking water.

Illinois EPA will also offer testing to communities downstream from wastewater treatment plants that may be affected.

Within the next few weeks, Illinois EPA will begin collecting samples of treated and untreated water from participating water systems and will coordinate laboratory analysis to determine the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water supplies.

Both the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health will review the lab results to assess any possible risk to public health.

"While Illinois' drinking water is safe and there is no cause for immediate concern, the Illinois EPA will assess the scope of the presence of pharmaceuticals in our waterways to ensure that our drinking water supplies are adequately protected, said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott.

In addition to expanded testing, the Illinois EPA will continue to push for more evaluation of the human health effects of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies.

At a Great Lakes meeting planned for later this month in Indianapolis, Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott will work with other Great Lakes state environmental officials to call for more federal evaluation of these chemicals. The Illinois EPA will assist the U.S. EPA in developing any new regulations under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act needed to protect public health.

The Illinois EPA will also expand a pharmaceutical disposal program it launched last summer with several county health departments to collect old and unwanted pharmaceuticals.

As part of the current pilot program, solid waste agencies in Kendall, Will, Knox and McDonough and the City of Galesburg collect unused drugs from senior centers, retirement complexes, and convalescent centers in their areas.

The state agency provides the disposal containers to the counties. Since the pilot program launched, Illinois EPA has removed six 30-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals from the environment through the four pilot programs.

The Illinois EPA will invite Cook County and City of Chicago to join the collection program, and encourage other county solid waste agencies to create similar drug collection programs to prevent drugs from being flushed down the drain and possibly ending up in drinking water supplies.

Illinois EPA will continue collecting unused pharmaceuticals at its household hazardous waste collection events, which are held across the state each spring and fall.

In the event that citizens cannot attend one of the agency's Household Hazardous Waste collections, four permanent household hazardous waste collection facilities in Rockford, Naperville, Chicago and Lake County also accept pharmaceutical waste. In addition, many hospitals, pharmacies and police departments also offer programs to collect and dispose of unwanted drugs.

To discourage illegal and unsafe ingestion of discarded pharmaceuticals, the state encourages people to remove unused or unneeded drugs from their original containers, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in nondescript impermeable containers, such as empty cans, for disposal.

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