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    pillsA recent series of articles, released by the Associated Press, has provided information and highlighted concerns of the trace amounts of PPCPs found in water. This acronym stands for “Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” The Associated Press states that a vast array of pharmaceuticals including many prescribed and over the counter medications have been found in drinking water supplies across the country.

    PPCPs are described as a grouping of chemical substances that range from prescription drugs to fragrances and cosmetics. Research studies over the past several decades have recognized that the potential for PPCPs to enter the environment through wastewater treatment discharge, industrial discharge, runoff from confined animal feeding operations and treated sludge applied to agricultural land. PPCPs may enter in a reduced form (after passing through the body) or by direct discharge of discarded PPCPs. While this topic has made the recent news, water professionals nationally have been researching the occurrence of PPCPs for more than 30 years.

    test tubes filled with waterThe Grand Rapids Water System has been and continues to be committed to ensuring that our customers have a safe and reliable water supply. Our water is regularly sampled and tested and continues to meet or exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements and regulations. The Grand Rapids Water Treatment Plant routinely and continuously monitors the water for a variety of chemicals. The sources of drinking water (both tap water and bottled water) include rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, reservoirs, springs and wells. As water travels over the surface of the land or through the ground, it dissolves naturally occurring minerals and can pick up substances resulting from the presence of animals or from human activity. The Water System is required to test for many contaminants, but the EPA does not require testing for PPCPs.

    As a means of ensuring a high quality water supply, the City of Grand Rapids Water System was pro-active in seeking out specific information on PPCPs in our drinking water several years ago. In 2005, the Grand Rapids Water System along with City of Monroe and City of Ann Arbor voluntarily participated in a program to test for PPCPs conducted on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Surface/source water (Lake Michigan) and drinking water as well as wastewater influent and wastewater effluent was tested in Grand Rapids to evaluate the occurrence and fate of certain PPCPs.

    Laboratory analysis reported 19 of the 22 target compounds were detected in source water. Trace amounts of the compounds detected in the source water intake included antibiotics, analgesics, anti-epileptics, stimulants and steroids. After the treatment process, drinking water was tested and laboratory analysis reported only 11 of the 22 compounds were detected. It was noted that the water treatment process effectively reduced the concentration of most compounds detected in source water. The majority of the compounds detected in source water had been removed from drinking water at a rate of 90% or greater. The report also indicated that the chlorine treatment used in Grand Rapids is an effective method in removing certain compounds.Rx symbol on mortal and pestle

    While there remained evidence of certain compounds in drinking water the actual traces were parts per billion or parts per trillion. These amounts are minuscule. A part per billion is roughly equivalent to one-thousandth teaspoon of water in a 21-foot diameter, 4-foot deep swimming pool or the equivalent to one penny to $10 million. Examples of one part per trillion is about the same as mixing one drop of ink into an Olympic-sized swimming pool, one minute in 2,000,000 years, or a single penny in $10 billion.

    Scientists and water professionals are able to detect more substances due to advanced technology. Research will continue to study the impact of trace levels of PPCPs found in drinking water. However, people must remember that they consume or expose themselves to products in higher concentrations through other foods and beverages, the types of medications they take, as well as many other sources in our home and workplace. For more information about pharmaceuticals and personal care products as pollutants, see West Michigan Take Back Meds for information on proper handlingof unwanted pharmaceuticals.

    ImageThe priority of the Grand Rapids Water System is protecting public health. We ask our customers to properly dispose of unused pharmaceutical products. You can help by refraining from flushing unused medications down the toilet or sink. Instead, find out if your pharmacy accepts medications for disposal, or contact the local health department for information about proper disposal of medications, cleaning products, pesticides and automotive products. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) provides guidance:

    Remember that improper disposal of all chemical and biological products affects our environment, possibly impacting your source water. The Water System will continue to monitor the studies and incorporate recommendations concerning PPCPs. Additionally, we will continue our involvement and support of watershed protection efforts so that we are able to provide the high-quality, safe and reliable drinking water that our customers expect.

    If you have further questions, please feel free to contact:



    Mike Grenier, Filtration Plant Superintendent
    Phone: (616) 456-3700

    Carl Palma, Chemist II
    Phone: (616) 456-3930