No EPA Guidelines to Look for Pharmaceutical in Country's Drinking Water

Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) -- A growing controversy over water is making national headlines after an Associated Press investigation showed water from 24 cities nationwide contained a wide variety of pharmaceuticals in them, some over the counter, some prescription. The first question on many people's minds - is the water here safe?

It's easy to understand how drugs like aspirin and antibiotics and even antidepressants might get into drinking water. The simple truth is when you take a drug you absorb about 80% of it. The rest goes down the drain into the environment.

"We've been concerned about sourcewater protection for years," says Buddy Morgan of the Montgomery Water Works. Researchers didn't find drugs in any Alabama waterways, but they did in big cities with presumably more drugs moving around. Even in those areas, the amounts they're talking about are tiny.

The problem is, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have a standard for any drug amount in drinking water, and it doesn't require Alabama or any other state to test for drugs, so Alabama's Department of Environmental Management doesn't.

ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes tells WSFA 12 News, "whatever they[EPA] require us to monitor for, we make sure that the drinking water systems in Alabama are monitored for those parameters."

Morgan says, "If they gave us a clear cut answer of where they want us to be and what we need to be doing, we'll move forward on it."

But for many people, even hearing that a small amount of pharmaceuticals is a wakeup call. Montgomery Water Works tested for drugs in the Tallapoosa River back in 2005. Researchers looked for 186 chemicals and found 32 in extremely low amounts. "

"Almost, really, you could call them a non-detect," says Morgan. The most commonly found - pesticides, a veteranery antibiotic, camphor, which is found in makeup, and the insect repellant, Deet.

Morgan and others say they don't think the trace amounts anyone has found in drinking water are large enough to cause problems in humans at this moment, but they do agree the government must start thinking about doing more tests to make sure and also to find a way to remove those chemicals in the future.

Reporter: Chris Holmes