Kennedy Birley- Guest Writer
OLYMPIA, Wash. – LOTT Clean Water Alliance in Olympia, Wash. has discovered non-FDA approved levels of pharmaceuticals in reclaimed, non-potable water, due to improper disposal of medications, and use of environment damaging cleaners by citizens.
With extreme weather conditions resulting in phenomenons of raging fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and drought, many regions have opted to use reclaimed water for household tasks. Non-potable water cannot be used for drinking water. It comes from water in the sewage waste system that go through an intense cleaning process to be used for toilets and irrigation. Water lines using the reclaimed water are distinguished with the use of purple piping. This use of reclaimed water is very important for regions that have been suffering extreme drought, as it reserves clean water exclusively for drinking.
Although, as LOTT has discovered, reclaimed water has more problems than scientists first anticipated. Pharmaceuticals have been appearing in measurable levels in the reclaimed water after cleaning. “These results were not surprising. Many of these chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment,” Wendy Steffensen said over email Tuesday, Sept. 11th. Waste water treatment processes are not specifically made to remove all residual chemicals; some may be removed, while others remain in the reclaimed water. To completely remove all chemicals from the water, there is a process called reverse osmosis which is very expensive and has its own set of environmental downfalls. LOTT is also studying chemicals from soap, household cleaners, pesticides, and artificial sweeteners. According to the 2009 Wastewater Epidemiology Study in Washington and Oregon, 18 facilities including the LOTT Budd Inlet Treatment Plant tested positive for traces of MDMA and Methamphetamine in wastewater. Despite this testing, LOTT “[has] not tested for illegal drugs as part of our routine testing or as part of the Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study,” said Steffensen in her email.
In recent studies, there are accounts of fish becoming feminized and able to produce eggs harming the population, but there is no evidence of harm to wildlife as a result of reclaimed water entering groundwater as it has gone through cleaning and has lower levels of chemicals than when originally collected. Another aspect of the reclaimed water study is infiltration. This is the process of reclaimed water mixing with groundwater. This process begins with the used water from a typical home being channeled to a treatment facility, which is then cleaned and piped into infiltration basins. The water in these infiltration basins then soaks through sand and gravel to join groundwater in a shallow, unconfined aquifer. The water in this section is then naturally moved to monitoring wells and basins to ensure compliance with the Washington State groundwater quality standards.
LOTT suggests to help by disposing of pharmaceuticals properly. There are many drop boxes in the community where leftover prescriptions can be dropped off, such as the Thurston County Courthouse, Lacey Police Department, and the Tumwater Police Department. Some pharmacies will accept leftover pharmaceuticals for disposal, and in October every year, there is the National Prescription Take-Back Day. It is specifically stated to not flush or rinse medications down the drain or toilet. It is also suggested to use less toxic household cleaners and cosmetics, natural cleaners are a great option.
While you may not be seeing purple pipelines under your house yet, this network has expanded to the LOTT Regional Services Center and the Children’s Museum for flushing toilets, and has the potential to be used throughout the area.