MWRA online - home
Home
Water System
Sewer System
Harbor and Bay
School Program
About MWRA
Doing Business with MWRA
Contact MWRA

Pharmaceuticals and Drinking Water
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

 

MORE INFORMATION

image of pills

 

Our advice - don't flush unneeded drugs down the 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 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection website for about information about proper disposal.

BROCHURE
MWRA Press Release
"The Test Results Are In: No Pharmaceuticals in MWRA Water"
April 27, 2008

Hearing, Massachusetts Legislature Joint Committee on Public Health

On May 13, 2008, the Massachusetts’ legislature’s joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing at the State House on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment and Drinking Water.  A number of scientists, activists and agencies provided testimony on the issue.

TESTIMONY
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA)
Massachusetts Department of Public Health  (MDPH)
Professor James Shine of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)
Summit on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Massachusetts Environment

On June 5, 2008, MDEP and MDPH sponsored a Summit on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Massachusetts Environment. Representatives from about 20 groups attended including: MWRA, EPA, USGS, UMass, Harvard School of Public Health, and various industry and public health associations.  The purpose of the summit was to provide a forum for discussion of the issues associated with environmental pharmaceuticals; identify the issues and potential problems associated with PPCPs in the environment; identify potential solutions to the problems; and identify an initial strategy to effectively and efficiently achieve the solutions. When a summary of the meeting is made available by MDEP and MDPH, it will be posted here.

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:

PHARMACEUTICALS:
Acetaminophen
Caffeine
Carbamazepine
Fluoxetine
Gemfibrozil
Ibuprofen
Iopromide
Sulfamethoxazole
Trimethoprim

HORMONES:
Estradiol
Estrone
Ethyl Estradiol
Progesterone
Testoserone

ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS:
2, 6-Di-tert-butylphenol
4-Methylphenol
4-Nonylphenol
Alpha Chloradane
Bis Phenol A (BPA)
Carbaryl
Chlorpyrifos
DEET
Diazinon
Dieldrin
Methylparathon
Phenol
TDCPP
Triclosan
Triphenyl Phosphate
Tris (2-Butoxyethyl) Phosphate*
Tris (2-Chloroethyl) Phosphate

Note that the testing for these compounds is very sensitive. 
Further information on the testing

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.
MWRA's protected watersheds have NO wastewater discharges into the reservoirs or tributaries. Any area within the MWRA watershed which has dense enough development to require sewers has those sewers pumped to a treatment plant OUTSIDE the watershed.

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.

WASTEWATER REGULATIONS

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.  

  • MWRA is an active member of the American Waterworks Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF), a member-supported, international, nonprofit organization that sponsors research to enable water utilities, public health agencies, and other professionals to provide safe and affordable drinking water to consumers.  Many of the analytical methods used to detect PPCPs at very low levels were developed by AwwaRF funded research, and much of the data on the presence of PPCPs in drinking water came from AwwaRF studies.  MWRA, with the University of Massachusetts and 14 other water systems, is participating in a new AwwaRF study on how various treatment techniques destroy or alter PPCPs.
  • The American Waterworks Association (AWWA) has also taken an active role in working with EPA and Congress to evaluate if there is a health risk associated with PPCPs in drinking water and how the issue should be approached.  Testimony from the hearing on April 15, 2008 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation, Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality helps set the context for understanding the issues.
  • The MDEP has also been actively looking at a wide variety of issues related to PPCPs for several years.
  • While the EPA has not yet issued drinking or wastewater standards for PPCPs, and does not yet require testing for them, they have been engaged in research on fate, transport, occurrence, and health and ecological effects for several years.  US EPA PPCPs web site
  • Information from a June  2005 Northeast Waste Management Officials Association' (NEWMOA), workshop hosted with the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, and the EPA-New England on pharmaceuticals and the environment for Massachusetts environmental and public health professionals.

Back to top

Rev. March 23, 2010

Historic Withdrawls Reservoir Levels