The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Tuesday held a public hearing on pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania’s waterways with representatives of the Fish and Boat Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and two scientists doing research on this topic.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing
John Arway, Executive Director of the Fish and Boat Commission, described how fish and aquatic life are impacted by complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals and other compounds released into waste streams and found in runoff from landscapes and urged the public to properly dispose of expired and unused medications.
“Research beginning in 1999 first showed that chemicals found in medications were being absorbed by fish and were contributing factors to a number of fish health problems,” Arway said. “Perhaps the most troubling condition is intersex fish. This is where male fish develop female egg cells in their testis.”
Arway noted that the U.S. Geological Survey Fish Health Laboratory reported in 2013 that approximately 50 percent of male bass in the Delaware River had intersex condition, 10 percent in the Ohio River drainage were affected, and up to 100 percent of the males sampled in the Susquehanna River were found to have intersex.
More recent samples in the Susquehanna confirm that 90–100 percent of male Smallmouth Bass have intersex condition and that this condition is more severe than found in other drainages.
“How can we as a society make progress in reducing pharmaceuticals from getting into our lakes, streams and rivers?” Arway said. “Removing unused pharmaceuticals from homes and providing proper disposal alternatives is an important first step in reducing the amount of compounds getting into lakes, rivers and streams. Improving wastewater treatment processes to provide more effective removal of medications is another effective solution.”
Last month, the PFBC announced that it had partnered with Geisinger Health System to install a drug take-back box in the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters to provide a way for citizens to safely dispose of unused medications and help improve the health of the Susquehanna River and its Smallmouth Bass.
Dr. John Peterson Myers, Environmental Health Sciences and Carnegie Mellon University, provided an overview of the impacts of endocrine disruptors on wildlife and humans saying: low doses matter a lot; testing methods are deeply flawed and exposure is ubiquitous.
Dr. Emma J. Rosi, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, said pharmaceuticals and personal care products are now part of river ecosystems and they get into waterways through manufacturing plants, wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, land applied biosolids, animal wastes and other sources
Dr. Rosi provided an overview of the research now being done on streams in the Baltimore area.
She encouraged drug take back programs, limiting the use of these products and an increased emphasis on wastewater plant maintenance and upgrading facilities to deal with these issues and more research.
Dana Aunkst, DEP Deputy Secretary for Water Programs, said DEP first began to monitor for pharmaceuticals in waterways in 2006 and did a joint study with the U.S. Geological Survey focused on drinking water sources from 2006 to 2009.
The study findings included--
-- Few pharmaceuticals were detected in the groundwater samples;
-- Seven pharmaceuticals were detected in sites located upstream and downstream of animal feeding operations;
-- A larger number of compounds were detected downstream of wastewater
treatment plants, and at a greater detection frequency, than upstream of wastewater treatment plants;
-- Concentrations of compounds were higher downstream than upstream of wastewater treatment plants;
-- Few compounds were detected, and at low concentrations, within 5 miles of drinking water intakes;
-- No patterns were found at the fish-health sites.
Aunkst then outlined the findings of the study DEP and the Fish and Boat Commission were conducting in the Lower Susquehanna River on the problem of tumors and sores on smallmouth bass.
Results to date indicate that the highest concentrations of pharmaceuticals are generally found downstream of wastewater treatment plants, which is to be expected. DEP will continue with its current sampling plan for pharmaceuticals in our waters as staffing and resource levels allow.
While DEP has collected a great deal of data in the form of water samples, Aunkst said, DEP is unable to determine that these compounds are present in our waters, much additional research and analysis are needed to determine what effects they may be having on our environment and public health.
To date, no conclusions have been reached that present a clear link between the concentrations of the compounds and fish-health. The USGS study found that few of these compounds were detected within 5 miles of drinking water intakes in Pennsylvania.
Click Here to watch a video of the hearing and for copies of testimony.Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: email@example.com.