The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 17, 2008

Experts say water supply safe

Pharmaceutical scare unwarranted in area

After antibiotics, hormones and other drugs were found in the drinking water supplies used by at least 41 million Americans, worrisome questions about potential health and environmental effects quickly followed.

“We received a number of calls from residents wanting to know if we could test their drinking water for pharmaceuticals,” said Dr. Clarence Haile, general manager of Research Environmental & Industrial Consultants Inc. in Beaver.

REIC provides a broad range of environmental monitoring, testing, assessment, analyses and consultation for air, water, soil and biospheres.

“We are not going to offer these methods of testing drinking water,” Haile said. “This kind of testing is very expensive, cumbersome, and we believe this unwarranted scare will soon go away.”

Haile has 30 years’ experience in environmental and analytical chemistry, and holds a doctoral degree in environmental chemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He is author or co-author of more than 50 articles, papers and published reports on environmental chemistry.

“The is no evidence of a human health risk from the small amounts of these compounds found in the drinking water of the large urban areas ... according to the Environmental Protection Agency,” Haile said. “These are water-soluble compounds that don’t accumulate in the body, like PCBs and pesticides.”

In the course of a five-month inquiry, The Associated Press discovered that drugs — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been detected in the potable water of 24 major metropolitan areas from Southern California to northern New Jersey, Detroit to Louisville.

Haile says he doubts any city has the capacity — outside of a research lab — to test for the pharmaceutical remnants.

“It’s very costly, and unless there is an imminent danger warning from the EPA or the health department, I doubt you are going to see any testing done,” he said.

Beckley Water Co. President Jack Vickers says since they are no sewer plants dumping above Beckley’s sources of water, there is even less risk that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals would be in the drinking water.

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