Denver Water is fortunate to have one of the most pristine watersheds in the world, as mountain snowmelt supplies nearly all of Denver’s water.
The subject of trace levels of pharmaceuticals in drinking water has come to the forefront in the media in recent years. While the issue of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water is not new, we understand the issue may prompt concern among our customers.
What are trace pharmaceuticals?
Trace pharmaceuticals are sometimes called microconstituents or emerging contaminants. They are products that enter the water supply through agricultural runoff or from human sources. A high percentage of pharmaceuticals in wastewater enter the water supply when people dispose of medicines in the sink or toilet. Most, if not all, pharmaceutical products — whether used in animals or in humans — are used in doses at which some amounts are passed through the user and back into water systems. Denver Water has partnered with community organizations to create a safe prescription drug disposal program and hopes to have it in place by the end of the year. Learn more about proper prescription drug disposal.
Is this a new issue?
The water industry has known about these compounds since about 2003 and has spent significant research dollars trying to determine if these constituents are present in localized water supplies.
Why are these compounds being detected now?
Water professionals today have the technology to detect more substances at lower levels than ever before. As analytical methods improve, pharmaceutical compounds and personal care products are being found at very low levels in many of our nation’s lakes, rivers and streams.
What has Denver Water found?
Denver Water decided to be proactive and participate in some of the earliest research projects looking for microconstituents in 2005 (a project with Colorado State University). We did not find any estrogenic compounds but did detect trace amounts of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals at part per trillion concentrations (one part per trillion is equivalent to a half-teaspoon of salt in 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or one second in 31,700 years).
The fact that some compounds were detected surprised us and shows that even the best watersheds are experiencing the impacts of consumer products.
What does this mean for my water?
Even the world’s best scientists don’t yet know what the presence of these substances in water mean to human health. In fact, the testing technology is so new, most commercial labs are not equipped to analyze for these compounds. Consequently, EPA has no current or proposed regulations for these substances.
Is my water safe?
Just because a substance is detectable does not mean the substance is harmful to humans. To date, research throughout the world has not demonstrated an impact on human health from pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting compounds in drinking water.
Denver Water has and always will strive to deliver the highest quality water to our customers. If future research indicates that certain substances should be removed from water and identifies the best way to do so, we will actively investigate how to do that.
How do I properly dispose of pharmaceuticals?
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver Water, Greenprint Denver and several other organizations have started a pilot program that will allow people to dispose of unwanted medication in a secure and environmentally safe way. The pilot will help state regulators decide whether a statewide program would be feasible.
People can drop off their unused and expired medications in tamper-resistant collection boxes at several Denver-metro locations. Disposing of the medication in boxes, rather than flushing them down a toilet or throwing them away, will help keep pharmaceuticals out of our drinking water. The impact of pharmaceuticals in drinking water on humans is still unclear. Denver Water has and always will strive to deliver the highest quality water.
You can do your part to keep pharmaceuticals out of our watershed. Drop off your unused medicine at any of the following locations:
- 2810 Quebec St., Denver
- 3400 Youngfield St., Wheat Ridge
- 4271 S. Buckley Road, Aurora
- 9551 S. University Blvd, Highlands Ranch
- Wellington E. Webb Center for Primary Care, 301 W. Sixth Ave.
Tri-County Health Department
- 4201 E. 72nd Ave., Suite D, Commerce City
- 4857 S. Broadway, Englewood