Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

May 7, 2008

About the author: Clare Pierson is associate editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Pierson can be reached at 847.391.1012 or by e-mail at [email protected].

The Associated Press (AP) and Chicago Tribune have recently published reports on trace amounts of pharmaceuticals found in community drinking supplies across the nation. Immediately following the AP report, Waters Corp. began offering complimentary and confidential testing for common over-the-counter medications and antidepressants in drinking water to water authorities that serve 100,000 customers or more.

Clare Pierson, associate editor of Water & Wastes Digest, talked to Rohit Khanna, vice president of worldwide marketing for the Waters Division, about why the company made this offer and how drinking water utilities should respond to the results.

Clare Pierson: Have any water authorities taken advantage of the Waters Corp.’s offer of complimentary testing for pharmaceutical compounds and other chemicals? How much longer do utilities have to submit a request for this free testing?

Rohit Khanna: Yes, many water utilities have submitted samples for complimentary screening on the Waters AquaAnalysis system. We are bound by confidentiality in discussing any specifics about these requests, but what has been most exciting about the response has been the shift in the conversation from talk of concerns and crisis to discussions of cooperation to better understand the public’s exposure to pharmaceutical residues.

At this time, Waters has decided to continue with this program as long as the need is high.

Pierson: Why did Waters Corp. feel it was important to make this offer? What should water authorities make of the results once they have them?

Khanna: Local water authorities were and continue to be under extreme pressure to respond to their constituencies following reports on the existence of pharmaceutical residues in U.S. drinking water supplies. We felt it important and responsible to be actively part of the solution, given our technological capabilities and expertise in chemical analysis. So we developed this program with the intention of providing a baseline understanding of exposure to help move toward forward-looking action plans. We are more than happy to work with these authorities on developing ongoing testing strategies to ensure the quality of their water.

Pierson: Why, in this complimentary testing, does Waters Corp. focus specifically on antidepressants and over-the-counter medications?

Khanna: While the Waters AquaAnalysis system is capable of detecting a myriad of trace levels of compounds, the current concern of many water authorities is common pharmaceuticals. We felt that testing for these compounds was the most critical challenge for them and therefore, would have the biggest impact.

Pierson: Please describe the AquaAnalysis system and the technology and methods it uses to detect these compounds.

Khanna: The Waters AquaAnalysis System has been developed specifically to overcome the challenges faced by water testing laboratories, providing parallel analyte extraction, separation and detection in one turnkey solution. It is the only parallel online sample prep-plus-separation and detection system in the market today, providing a holistic solution from point of sample collection to report print-out. Automated sample handling, proprietary column chemistries and ultra-sensitive mass spectrometry have been combined into an online SPE LC/MS/MS system that dramatically streamlines the water analysis process. Requiring only a fraction of the typical sample volume, the system reduces typical analysis times by as much as 80%.

Pierson: Even if the results show very minimal amounts of these compounds, should utilities and the general public still be concerned about pharmaceuticals in water?

Khanna: Of course the general public should be concerned about pharmaceuticals in drinking water, but that concern should be tempered with the knowledge that their water utility has access to advanced technology to monitor trace levels of residues. Waters is keenly aware of the broad impact that contaminants can have on our natural resources. However, we believe that before any efforts are made to effectively safeguard our resources, authorities should conduct baseline assessments of current contamination levels to ensure long-term environmental management success.

For more information, contact Joe Romano, senior manager, chemical analysis, for Waters Corp. Romano can be reached at 508.482.2963 or by e-mail at [email protected]. For more information on submitting water samples to Waters Corp., please go to

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About the Author

Clare Pierson

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