DVC H20: a risk?

The water at DVC passes all the government standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency,, but you might be surprised to know what is in that water.

The San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times recently ran stories about pharmaceuticals that make their way through sewage treatment plants, into waterways and eventually back into drinking water.

“We flush a toilet and think it just vanishes,” says DVC oceanography instructor John Freytag. “The natural waterways can only take care of so much.” Studies show that very low levels of pharmaceuticals have an effect on aquatic life, causing the feminization of male species of everything from small frogs up the food chain to larger marine mammals.

The problem for Contra Costa is they get their water from the bottom of the Delta,” says Mike Taugher, a Contra Costa Times writer who covers natural resources.

Because we are at the bottom we get waste water from every city upstream, in addition to pesticides aimed at sterilizing insect populations, construction run-off, and everything else that makes its way into our water. Jessica Malespin, who worked as supervising microbiologist for the Contra Costa Water District and is now the science lab coordinator at the San Ramon campus, is reassuring.

“No water goes out that isn’t safe for the public to drink,” she says.

However, it would be arrogant to think that humans are somehow unaffected by the traces of Estrone, Chrysin, Meprobamate and every other pharmaceutical on the market.

The water at DVC is pumped out of the Delta at the Bollman Water Treatment Plant in Concord and cleaned through a four-step process before being released for consumption, which the Contra Costa Water District says, filters out “approximately” 75-80 percent of pharmaceuticals found in source water.

However, the water district is only required to test for one pharmaceutical.

In July 2006, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation ran tests on source water for 62 contaminates and found at least 13 pharmaceuticals and several pesticides. The Food and Drug Administration currently has 5,841 pharmaceuticals approved for use, and there are tens of thousands of chemicals under patent according to the FDA and U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office.

“All the mixing of those things, it’s like a clear toxic soup is coming out of the tap,” says DVC student Alison Ryan, 18.. “When I first read about it I stopped drinking water from the tap. I drink bottled water.”

But bottled water isn’t necessarily better, since a lot of water is bottled from municipal sources.

In addition, the bottles themselves release chemicals shown to boost estrogen levels and are only subject to Food and Drug Administration regulations.

This is in contrast to tap water, which is subject to FDA, EPA and state regulations according to Malespin.

That doesn’t necessarily mean much, however. The EPA’s website hardly mentions pharmaceuticals, and the information is dated.

“It’s alarming,” says Freytag. “If you are only getting rid of 70 or 80 percent, that means there are some level of these pesticides and pharmaceuticals in the water, on this campus.

“Water is life, right?”