April 15, 2008
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today on pharmaceuticals in the environment. I’m sure you would agree that Americans enjoy one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world, as well as reliable pharmaceutical drug supplies. Over the years, science has helped answer many questions and provide remarkable cures for common viruses to complex diseases. At the same time, science often creates many new and challenging questions. It has moved us to a point where we can now detect contaminants in our water all the way down to the parts per trillion. Those emerging contaminants have caused the public to rightly question, is our drinking water safe? I believe the answer is yes, as we will hear in testimony today.
A few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported on emerging traces of pharmaceuticals in several municipal drinking water systems, spurring public concern and this hearing. Although, we should note that this is not a new issue. In fact, this subject has been studied for nearly 40 years, even before the Safe Drinking Water Act was signed into law. However, that doesn’t discount the public concern created over the media report.
Mr. Chairman, I sent a letter to EPA requesting that they first respond to the public, ensuring their health and safety is not immediately at risk. I also asked that the Administrator convene an advisory committee or working group comprised of all relevant federal agencies, interested public and industry to review the emerging scientific data and identify possible mitigation practices to reduce overall disposal of pharmaceuticals. I appreciate EPA’s timely response on both requests and am happy to know there is no immediate health risk. I am also happy to hear that the administration is currently reviewing cross jurisdictional guidelines to find a better way for drug disposal. I look forward to hearing from our government panel.
We will also hear testimony today from Dr. Alan Goldhammer from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, who has done extensive research on pharmaceuticals in the environment. PhRMA has developed a watershed-based model to estimate concentrations of active pharmaceutical ingredients discharged into surface waters through everyday consumption of medicines. Through that base model, industry, in cooperation with USGS, has further developed human health risk data on 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients. A significant amount of time and money between the federal government and private industry has produced favorable studies suggesting that the public is indeed safe. I appreciate the time and effort by all in this area.
I’m also pleased to have Dr. Shane Snyder from Southern Nevada Water Authority here to discuss his research on both the concerns that were raised by the media, as well as whether current scientific findings warrant expensive treatment mandates. Dr. Snyder has published several manuscripts and book chapters on endocrine disrupters and pharmaceuticals in water and we are happy to have him here today.
Before we get started, anytime we discuss issues surrounding drinking water, I must take the opportunity to remind the committee that we need to improve our nation’s drinking water facilities by reauthorizing the States Revolving Loan Fund programs, both drinking and waste water. This committee has the responsibility to ensure clean, safe, and affordable water for our country by providing the necessary resources to our states and local governments.
I hope this hearing provides clarity to the status of public health and safety, while recognizing that current treatment facilities are already under enormous compliance pressure.