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NACWA Tells House Panel More Research is Needed About Impacts of Emerging Contaminants

For Immediate Release:  Sept. 18, 2008

Contact:  Susan Bruninga
Director, Legislative and Public Affairs, NACWA, (202) 833-3280

NACWA Tells House Panel More Research is Needed About Impacts of Emerging Contaminants

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) testified today before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment about the need for more research into potential environmental and human health impacts of emerging contaminants.  Speaking on behalf of NACWA was Keith Linn, an Environmental Specialist for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, Ohio.
He noted that while these compounds are called “emerging contaminants,” most have been around for a long time — ever since they were produced and people started using them.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first reported trace levels of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in 1975.

“Increasingly sophisticated technology is revealing the presence of chemical compounds at lower and lower trace levels, down to nanograms-per-liter concentrations.  A person would have to drink two Olympic-size swimming pools of untreated water from Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River daily to ingest as much as a single therapeutic dose of an antibiotic detected in the river,” Linn testified.  “Yet, presence alone is fostering awareness of, and anxiety about, emerging contaminants.”

As public awareness grows about trace concentrations of these compounds in the nation’s water, it is important to study and understand whether they have a negative environmental or human health impact, and what the respective roles should be for manufacturers, retailers, users, and wastewater and drinking water utilities. There is little or no data on the ecological toxicity of most of these compounds, and performing chemical analyses on all of them would be prohibitively expensive, Linn said.

NACWA has been involved in efforts to remove from commerce potentially harmful products that add little or no practical value, such as soaps and detergents containing triclosan.  NACWA has also participated in discussions with EPA on permethrin-impregnated clothing and copper and silver biocides that may create problems for aquatic life.  The Association has partnered with the Product Stewardship Institute to develop a comprehensive approach for managing the disposal of unused PPCPs.  In addition, many NACWA member agencies have established pharmaceutical take-back programs to keep these compounds out of the environment altogether.  However, these efforts are complicated by the fact that federal narcotics laws and guidelines continue to advise certain prescription drugs be flushed into the sewer system.

NACWA strongly encourages Congress and EPA to address emerging contaminants in a cooperative manner with the regulated community.


NACWA represents the interests of more than 300 public agencies and organizations that have made the pursuit of scientifically based, technically sound and cost effective laws and regulations their objective. NACWA members serve the majority of the sewered population in the United States and collectively treat and reclaim more than 18 billion gallons of wastewater daily.

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