Researchers have been finding trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in rivers and lakes. Now, a new report suggests that the presence of Prozac in water bodies might be endangering freshwater mussels. Celeste Headlee has details:
A new report suggests that the presence of Prozac in natural water systems can increase
the risk of extinction for freshwater mussels. Celeste Headlee has details:
Many freshwater mussel species are already highly endangered. Experts say about 70
percent of the 300 known species of mussel in North America are extinct, endangered or
declining. Authors of the new study say even trace amounts of anti-depressants like
Prozac are dangerous to mussels because they interfere with reproduction.
Prozac and other prescription medications are flushed into sewer systems and then
released into rivers and streams. Researchers placed female mussels carrying larvae into
tanks with various concentrations of Prozac. Within two days, all of the mussels had
prematurely released their larvae, which then died.
The authors of the study say new wastewater treatment procedures might have to be
developed to filter out prescription and over-the-counter drugs before they reach
Recommendations have been made in the second and final report of an inquiry into the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and 2,300 became sick two years ago when E. coli bacteria leeched into the town’s drinking water supply from a nearby dairy farm. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Recommendations have been made in the second and final report of
an inquiry into the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and 2,300 became sick two years ago when E. coli bacteria leeched into the town’s drinking water supply from a nearby dairy farm. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
In his first report three months ago, the head of the Walkerton inquiry, Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor, outlined what went
wrong and who was to blame. In his final report, O’Connor makes 93 recommendations aimed at preventing another tragedy like Walkerton. He provides a blue print for fixing the province’s water systems. That includes having the province spend 800-million dollars immediately to upgrade water systems, and beef up programs and policies designed for water protection. He says there should be a safe drinking water act, a separate drinking water branch as well as a watershed management branch both to be created within the environment ministry. And there must be tougher enforcement of water regulations for farms and municipalities.
Without that, O’Connor says the threats to safe water in the Great Lakes region will grow. If the recommendations are implemented, many people will be able to rest easier knowing that Ontario could be working on improved watershed protection. But that may be wishful thinking. Already the Ontario government is taking a “go slow” approach, mainly because of the money it might have to spend… almost four times as much as the environment ministry’s current budget. The next step, it says, is consultations with communities across the province.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Karpenchuk.
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But, at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
Since the attacks, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, has been traveling the country, assuring groups that water supplies are safe from terrorism. Speaking recently to a group of journalists, Whitman explained that security at water utilities has been increased and that water is now tested more frequently. And she said that given the size of most reservoirs, it would take a very large amount of any chemical or biological contaminant before any such attack would have an effect.
“It would be extremely difficult for someone to perform this kind of act, taking a truckload –and that’s what it would be, a tanker truckload– up to a reservoir and dumping it in, given the heightened security we have today. And that’s a security that’s not just being provided by the water companies, which it is, but it’s also citizen heightened security, believe me. People are calling in all the time when they see things that they think they shouldn’t be seeing near water supply systems.”
But, Whitman’s view is not shared by a number of experts in the field of terrorism prevention. Jim Snyder is a professor at the University of Michigan. He was a member of a team of experts that worked with the Defense Department to determine possible threats against public water supplies.
“There are a number of contaminants, several bio-toxins and a large number of chemicals that are more or less readily available that could be put into, let’s say, a ten-million gallon reservoir which could in amounts something between a backpack and a pickup truck could achieve a lethal dose of 50-percent. That is, 50-percent of the people who drank one cup would die.”
And Snyder adds, water contamination wouldn’t have to be lethal, just contaminated enough that it caused panic and made the water unusable. Snyder also points out that the tests that production chemists run on water would not detect the kind of contaminants terrorists would use. The first clue something was wrong would be sick or dead people.
EPA Administrator Whitman concedes that there are some contaminants that would not be filtered out or killed by disinfectants used in water treatment. but she says water systems across the U-S are prepared for most kinds of attacks.
“The vast majority of contaminants about which we’re worried, we know how to treat. We know what steps to take. And those where we’re not sure of what we need to do, we’re working with the CDC to develop a protocol to respond. And we’re sharing that information as we get it with the water companies to make sure even those small ones know what to look for and how to treat it if they find it.”
Besides the Center for Disease Control, the EPA is working with the FBI and the water utilities to prepare for the worst, while telling the public that there’s little to worry about. The EPA could have helped those water systems prepare earlier. The terrorism prevention team Jim Snyder sat on drafted a manual for water system operators, outlining security measures that could be taken. The EPA buried that manual in part because the agency didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm the public.
The water utility industry is working with the EPA to try to calm any fears the consumers might have. The American Water Works Association has held joint news conferences with Administrator Whitman, echoing the statement that poisons would be diluted or that it would take a tanker of contaminants to cause a problem. Pam Krider is a spokesperson for the American Water Works Association.
“When you get into a specific discussion about types of chemicals or quantities of chemicals, whether it’s a backpack or whether it’s a tanker, I mean, those are not as useful as discussing what are the processes that a utility has in place for monitoring what is and is not in its water, ensuring that they can provide safe, clean drinking water to the consumers within their city.”
So, the American Water Works Association is encouraging water utilities to step up testing water and quietly meet with emergency planners to prepare for the worst..
“What we have been discussing is the need for every utility to work very closely with local officials, to have a crisis preparedness and response plan in place, to have back-up systems in place, and most important, to engage their local community in keeping an eye out on the different reservoirs, storage tanks and treatment facilities and reporting any kind of suspicious activity that they might see both to the utility as well as to the police department.”
Water terrorism prevention expert Jim Snyder says simple things such as locking gates and posting security guards go a long way to discourage would-be terrorists from attacking a water treatment plant, storage tanks, wells or a reservoir. However, he notes. there’s little that can be done to stop a determined terrorist from contaminating a public water supply. And it seems that’s a message the EPA and the water utilities don’t want to talk about because it might worry the public.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.