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For Immediate Release: May 12, 2008
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

BAY STATE WORSENS PRESCRIPTION DRUG IN DRINKING WATER PROBLEM

Siting Hospitals and Nursing Homes Next to Drinking Water Wells Is Unwise


Boston — Massachusetts is pursuing policies that aggravate contamination of its drinking water with pharmaceuticals and personal care products, according to legislative testimony released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Bay State is moving to let hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities discharge potentially high concentrations of medications, hormones, dietary supplements, and cleaning agents into groundwater near municipal and private drinking water wells.

Chemicals in over-the-counter and prescription drugs as well as personal care products (PPCPs) are not completely metabolized by the human body and thus end up entering rivers and groundwater that supply our drinking water. Even minute doses of these chemicals, which are not screened in water treatment, can affect human health, especially in children, the elderly, and people with immune deficiencies.

Many of these chemicals are endocrine-disrupting compounds that either block or mimic natural hormones, thereby disrupting normal functioning of organs. Constant exposure through drinking water is particularly worrisome to a growing network of scientists and public health experts.

The only sure strategy is to prevent the chemicals from entering drinking water in the first place. Yet, in a regulatory action that would frustrate a prevention strategy, Massachusetts is poised to permit construction of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in areas influencing municipal drinking water wells (i.e., classified as “Zone II”).

“Massachusetts appears to be giving only lip service to the problem of PPCP contamination,” states New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA biologist and lawyer in testimony to be delivered tomorrow before a special hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on “Reports of Pharmaceutical Contamination in Public Water Supplies.” “The state’s new proposed regulations will reclassify nursing homes and hospitals as ‘residences,’ therefore making it easier for these facilities to discharge into the groundwater affecting municipal wells.”

Aggravating the danger is that nearly half (47.8%) of groundwater discharge permits in the state are in significant non-compliance with their permit limits, according to FY 2007 posted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This means that the chemical discharges into groundwater are likely much larger than officially established limits and are, essentially, unmonitored.

“Besides lacking a coherent strategy for addressing this problem, our DEP is actually facilitating even more contamination of our water supplies,” Bennett added. “Prevention is essential because there are tens of thousands of pharmaceuticals on the market, with thousands more new products introduced annually, and we cannot track all these chemicals, let alone anticipate the untold synergistic effects of all the possible chemical combinations.”

Tomorrow’s hearing will be held at 10 a.m. in Room A-1 of the State House.

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View the fact sheet summary of the PEER testimony

Read the full PEER testimony

See the DEP estimates of groundwater discharge permit non-compliance

Look at the federal non-response to the PPCP problem