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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Drugs in the water?

    Editor’s note: Following an internal investigation, the Daily Wildcat is unable to ascertain the existence of students quoted in at least four stories written by reporter Jim Myers. These stories include: “”UA programs rank again,”” on Sept. 26; “”Courting the college vote,”” on Sept. 22; “”Drugs in the Water?”” on Aug. 27; and “”Budget to bring more UA building,”” on Aug. 27. The Daily Wildcat regrets this betrayal of trust. The reporter has been terminated.

    You can’t see them, smell them or taste them, but according to recently released studies, Tucson’s groundwater supply contains trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs.

    A study published by the Associated Press last March included Tucson in its list of 24 out of 62 major metropolitan areas in the United States where at least one drug was found in the water supply. The data for Tucson was based on 2002 research that found three drugs: carbamazepine, used by people for epilepsy; dehydronifedipine, a byproduct of heart-medication; and sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic often taken for urinary tract infections.

    “”There haven’t been any health risks that have been shown, so we’re just doing tests to find out what’s there,”” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for Tucson Water. Basefsky said tests were recently done this month, and drugs were found in one well in the parts-per-trillion range.

    “”For comparison, to get the average recommended dose of the pharmaceutical that was most prevalent in the test, a person would have to consume 1.3 million gallons of water,”” Basefsky said. Basefsky said Tucson Water plans to test its wells at locations that are close to the Santa Cruz River, where Pima County dumps its waste every three years.

    The UA gets approximately half of its water from Tucson Water, with the other half coming from its own private wells.

    “”The source of the water that comes out of water fountains depends on where you are on campus and the current pressure of the water supplies, which fluctuates,”” said Mark Marikos, a senior technician at UA’s Facilities Management/Utilities. “”Overall, it averages out to be about 50-50 between water we get from Tucson Water and water from our own wells.””

    Marikos said that while UA’s private wells have not been tested for the presence of pharmaceuticals, such tests would probably happen in the future.

    Debate over the actual impact of pharmaceuticals in groundwater across the nation is still highly contested, as no conclusive proof has been established to show adverse health effects, leading many researchers as well as the Environmental Protection Agency to dismiss concerns. Basefsky said one main reason that Tucson Water is performing its current tests is so it will be prepared if the EPA institutes standards regarding pharmaceuticals in metropolitan water supplies.

    “”I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as it’s being made out to be,”” Marikos said. “”I think one reason more pharmaceuticals are showing up in tests is because of the tremendous increase in detection technology in the past several years.””

    However, some researchers such as Kyla Bennett of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility pointed out that no long-term studies have been done and that human fetuses might be susceptible to drugs in water supplies as low as the parts-per-quadrillion range.

    “”I think they should try to find out how these drugs are getting into our groundwater supply first, and then go from there,”” said history senior Sam Arrowsmith.

    Most researchers agree that pharmaceuticals are present in the water supplies of several U.S. metropolitan areas, including Tucson and Scottsdale. The current debate focuses on the perceived impacts and the courses of action local and state governments should take.

    In Scottsdale, where trace amounts of caffeine were found in the water, the decision has been made to test the water periodically and determine the source. In Phoenix tests were done several months ago and came up clean. Phoenix does not plan on conducting future tests.

    In addition to the upcoming tests Tucson Water has planned, their stated goal is to find out where the pharmaceuticals are coming from and which ones are present.

    “”It’s not like I’m going to stop drinking water,”” said mechanical engineering sophomore Alex Torres. “”After all, this is the desert. But when you hear about something like this you can’t help but be concerned.””

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