NO PHARMACEUTICALS IN MWRA DRINKING WATER
There are no pharmaceuticals in MWRA drinking water. This page is provided to help people in our service area and around the country understand how pharmaceuticals can end up in drinking water or elsewhere in the environment.
A NATIONAL ISSUE
In early March 2008, the Associated Press broke a story about traces of pharmaceuticals found in some of the nation’s water supplies. The AP reporters compiled the results of tests from various water systems around the country and identified 36 pharmaceutical compounds. These compounds are not regulated by the EPA and water suppliers do not normally test for them.
MWRA TEST RESULTS
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority did not expect to find any in the water supplied to 50 communities in eastern and central Massachusetts because the source reservoirs are so well protected and because the ozone treatment provided at the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant would be effective at destroying many of them if they were present.
To ensure that these assumptions were true, MWRA did test the water. The results confirmed that there were no traces of pharmaceuticals in the water MWRA delivers.
MWRA used a laboratory that was able to test for a well-rounded selection of 31 pharmaceuticals, hormones and potential endocrine disrupting compounds. Samples were taken both before treatment (raw water) and after treatment (finished water). All of these compounds were “non-detects” in the finished water samples.
The testing included the most prevalent of those compounds:
Note that the testing for these compounds is very sensitive.
WHAT IS BEING DONE
MWRA is working with other water and wastewater agencies as well as state and federal officials to keep pharmaceutical compounds called PPDCs and EDCs (pharmaceuticals/personal care products and potential endocrine disrupting chemicals) out of drinking water and wastewater.
Almost all other water systems take their supply from rivers and lakes into which wastewater is discharged. The principal source of many of the trace amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals found in those supplies is from wastewater.
In 2005, MWRA began treating the water at the new John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant, using a state of the art ozonation system. In addition to providing excellent disinfection, and improved taste and clarity, ozone is a powerful oxidant. While MWRA does not expect that tests will show any pharmaceutical compounds in its source water, it is reassuring that recent research indicates that the type of ozone disinfection process currently being used by MWRA is effective at oxidizing and destroying these types of compounds.
HOW PHARMACEUTICALS CAN ENTER THE WATER ENVIRONMENT
One source for pharmaceutical compounds in the environment is wastewater. While MWRA has not found pharmaceutical compounds in the drinking water, they are in wastewater. Any natural or artificial chemical excreted by people or dumped into sinks, toilets and other drains will enter the wastewater stream.
MWRA'S WASTEWATER STREAM
In the MWRA system, wastewater is treated at the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, located on the Massachusetts coast. After treatment, the wastewater is discharged through a 9.5-mile long tunnel into Massachusetts Bay, far from any drinking water supplies.
The MWRA treats wastewater according to state and federal regulations. The US EPA does not regulate drugs in wastewater discharge, and only some of EDCs (such as herbicides and pesticides) are regulated. However, if there are environmental effects, MWRA would want to know about them, and would work with scientists and regulators to devise strategies to cost-effectively protect the environment. MWRA and many other wastewater agencies have been concerned about this issue, and are working to understand the implications of the presence of pharmaceuticals and to reduce them at the source.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Consumers can help reduce levels by properly disposing of any excess drugs. Our advice - don't flush unneeded drugs down your toilet. Instead, double bag them in plastic and put them in the trash. If you are concerned that someone may find the drugs in your trash, try adding used coffee grounds or cat litter to the plastic bag. Visit the Office of National Drug Control Policy for further information about proper disposal.
WHAT ARE OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND WATER SYSTEMS DOING?
Water systems around the US have been researching the pharmaceuticals issue, primarily through the water industries cooperative research foundation.
Rev. December 12, 2022