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News Article | May 12, 2014

According to various headlines this weekend, we Brits use so much cocaine that traces of the drug have been found in our water supply. A study by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) aimed at assessing the danger from pharmaceutical compounds in drinking water revealed that even after intensive purification treatment, minute quantities of benzoylecgonine – the metabolised form of cocaine – were found at four sites in Britain. So are we a nation of coke-heads? And does the presence of something related to a class-A drug in the water we drink actually matter? The answer to the first question, says Sue Pennison of DWI, the independent body that ensures the water companies supply water fit to drink, is not clear. Benzoylecgonine, she notes, "is also an ingredient in a popular muscle-rub, and there's no way of telling which it came from". The answer to the second question is clearer: it is no – at least, not in these concentrations. Traces of all sorts of things can be found in our drinking water, but as long as they are below the levels laid down by the Water Resources Act, which introduced the EU Drinking Water Directive into UK law, the water is deemed safe for human consumption. Those levels are strict: lower – sometimes by as much as 20 times – than those of the World Health Organisation's guidelines, which are themselves set to ensure there would be "no potential risk if the contaminant was absorbed continuously over a person's lifetime". Thus in a report last year, Public Health England said traces of six pharmaceutical compounds had been found in drinking water: benzoylecgonine, the painkillers ibuprofen and naproxen; carbamazapine, used in treating epilepsy, and its metabolised form carbamazapine epoxide; and caffeine. But, it noted, their median concentrations – which ranged from less than one to 11 nanogrammes per litre – were "at least thousands of times below doses seen to produce adverse effects in animals, and hundreds of thousands below human therapeutic doses. The detected pharmaceuticals are unlikely to present a risk to health." Scrutinised and audited by DWI, the water companies follow a strictly controlled methodology to test for a total of 39 parameters in UK drinking water, broadly divided into microorganisms (such as viruses, protozoa and bacteria), chemicals, and physical measures like the pH level and total organic content. New contaminants are discovered all the time: a Brunel University study in 2011, for example, raised the alarm about the presence of the dishwasher detergent chemicals benzotriazole and tolytriazole in UK drinking water. Some, it has to be said, do sound rather alarming: among the chemical contaminants tested for are antimony, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, cyanide, lead, mercury, nickel, pesticides, tetrachloroethene and vinyl chloride. But the point, Pennison says, is that the tests "are there to make sure there's not an issue." And even if the testing programme lets something nasty by, there's a catch-all provision: by law, "water companies cannot supply anything that would cause potential danger to human health." In her latest letter to the government summarising the findings of the DWI's 2013 report on drinking water quality in England, the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water, Professor Jeni Colbourne, confirmed that fully 99.96% of all tests carried out on public drinking water in England in 2012 satisfied EU and national standards. You may, it seems, swallow safely.

Carmichael C.,Public Health England | Odams S.,Public Health England | Murray V.,Public Health England | Sellick M.,Drinking Water Inspectorate | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Water and Health | Year: 2013

Water shortages as a result of extreme weather events, such as flooding and severe cold, have the potential to affect significant numbers of people. Therefore, the need to build robust, coordinated plans based on scientific evidence is crucial. The literature review outlined in this short communication was conducted as part of a joint Drinking Water Inspectorate and Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) report which aimed to review the scientific evidence base on extreme events, water shortages and the resulting health impacts. A systematic literature review was undertaken to identify published literature from both peer-reviewed and grey literature sources. The retrieved literature was then assessed using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network quality assessment. The authors found very few scientific studies. However, a great deal of valuable grey literature was retrieved and used by the research team. In total, six main themes of importance that were identified by the review and discussed included health impacts, water quantity and quality, alternative supplies, vulnerable groups, communication with those affected and the emergency response. The authors conclude that more research needs to be conducted on health impacts and extreme events water shortages in order to build the future knowledge base and development of resilience. © IWA Publishing 2013.

Hayes C.R.,University of Swansea | Hydes O.D.,Drinking Water Inspectorate
Journal of Water and Health | Year: 2012

At the zonal scale (e.g. a city or town), random daytime (RDT) sampling succeeded in demonstrating both the need for corrective action and the benefits of optimised orthophosphate dosing for plumbosolvency control, despite initial concerns about sampling reproducibility. Stagnation sampling techniques were found to be less successful. Optimised treatment measures to minimise lead in drinking water, comprising orthophosphate at an optimum dose and at an appropriate pH, have succeeded in raising compliance with the future European Union (EU) lead standard of 10 μg/L from 80.4% in 1989-94 to 99.0% in 2010 across England and Wales, with compliance greater than 99.5% in some regions. There may be scope to achieve 99.8% compliance with 10 μg/L by further optimisation coupled to selective lead pipe removal, without widespread lead pipe removal. It is unlikely that optimised corrosion control, that includes the dosing of orthophosphate, will be capable of achieving a standard much lower than 10 μg/L for lead in drinking water. The experience gained in the UK provides an important reference for any other country or region that is considering its options for minimising lead in their drinking water supplies. © IWA Publishing 2012.

Brown L.E.,University of Leeds | Mitchell G.,University of Leeds | Holden J.,University of Leeds | Folkard A.,Lancaster University | And 27 more authors.
Science of the Total Environment | Year: 2010

Several recent studies have emphasised the need for a more integrated process in which researchers, policy makers and practitioners interact to identify research priorities. This paper discusses such a process with respect to the UK water sector, detailing how questions were developed through inter-disciplinary collaboration using online questionnaires and a stakeholder workshop. The paper details the 94 key questions arising, and provides commentary on their scale and scope. Prioritisation voting divided the nine research themes into three categories: (1) extreme events (primarily flooding), valuing freshwater services, and water supply, treatment and distribution [each >. 150/1109 votes]; (2) freshwater pollution and integrated catchment management [100-150 votes] and; (3) freshwater biodiversity, water industry governance, understanding and managing demand and communicating water research [50-100 votes]. The biggest demand was for research to improve understanding of intervention impacts in the water environment, while a need for improved understanding of basic processes was also clearly expressed, particularly with respect to impacts of pollution and aquatic ecosystems. Questions that addressed aspects of appraisal, particularly incorporation of ecological service values into decision making, were also strongly represented. The findings revealed that sustainability has entered the lexicon of the UK water sector, but much remains to be done to embed the concept operationally, with key sustainability issues such as resilience and interaction with related key sectors, such as energy and agriculture, relatively poorly addressed. However, the exercise also revealed that a necessary condition for sustainable development, effective communication between scientists, practitioners and policy makers, already appears to be relatively well established in the UK water sector. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.

News Article | March 20, 2004

First, Coca-Cola's new brand of "pure" bottled water, Dasani, was revealed earlier this month to be tap water taken from the mains. Then it emerged that what the firm described as its "highly sophisticated purification process", based on Nasa spacecraft technology, was in fact reverse osmosis used in many modest domestic water purification units. Yesterday, just when executives in charge of a £7m marketing push for the product must have felt it could get no worse, it did precisely that. The entire UK supply of Dasani was pulled off the shelves because it has been contaminated with bromate, a cancer-causing chemical. So now the full scale of Coke's PR disaster is clear. It goes something like this: take Thames Water from the tap in your factory in Sidcup, Kent; put it through a purification process, call it "pure" and give it a mark-up from 0.03p to 95p per half litre; in the process, add a batch of calcium chloride, containing bromide, for "taste profile"; then pump ozone through it, oxidising the bromide - which is not a problem - into bromate - which is. Finally, dispatch to the shops bottles of water containing up to twice the legal limit for bromate (10 micrograms per litre). The Drinking Water Inspectorate confirmed yesterday it had checked the Thames water supplied to the factory and found it free of bromate. Because it is unsafe at high levels, standards for bromate in tap water are strictly monitored. Bromide is a naturally occurring trace chemical which has a sedative effect. It is said to have been added by the British army to soldiers' tea during the second world war to dampen down their lust. But when it is oxidised into bromate it becomes "a pretty nasty carcinogen", according to David Drury, one of the principal inspectors for the DWI. "I've checked Thames water's supply this morning and it is free of bromate," he said. The legal limits are set to have a wide margin of safety, and the Food Standards Agency advice yesterday was that while Dasani contained illegal levels of bromate, it did not present an immediate risk to the public. "Any increased cancer risk is likely to be small. However the levels are higher than legally permitted in the UK and present an unnecessary risk. Some consumers may chose not to drink any Dasani they purchased prior to its withdrawal given the levels of bromate in it," the FSA said. Coca-Cola said it was voluntarily withdrawing all Dasani "to ensure that only products of the highest quality are provided to our consumers". If you want a refund you should call freephone 0800 227711.

McLaughlin C.L.,National Center for Environmental Toxicology | Blake S.,National Center for Environmental Toxicology | Hall T.,National Center for Environmental Toxicology | Harman M.,National Center for Environmental Toxicology | And 3 more authors.
Water and Environment Journal | Year: 2011

There has been increasing interest in the widely used perfluorinated chemicals such as perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS). PFOS has been shown to be toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment and is a focus for restriction within the European Union. Limited monitoring data, especially in the United Kingdom, are available for PFOS in environmental waters, and even less for its detection in drinking water. Data available in the United Kingdom indicate that PFOS contamination of environmental waters has only occurred following specific incidents. Monitoring of 20 raw and treated drinking water sites in England, covering four seasonal periods, showed that PFOS is not a widespread background contaminant of raw and treated drinking water in England. Low levels of PFOS (0.012-0.208μg/L) were detected at four specific sites, which were at a higher risk for contamination. At three of these sites, where PFOS was detected in both raw and final drinking water, treatment processes [chlorination, ozonation and granular activated carbon (GAC)] did not appear to remove PFOS. The findings of this work are pertinent to risk assessments now required by the drinking water quality regulations. © 2009 WRc plc. Water and Environment Journal © 2009 CIWEM.

McLaughlin C.L.,WRc plc | Blake S.,WRc plc | Hall T.,WRc plc | Harman M.,WRc plc | And 3 more authors.
Water and Environment Journal | Year: 2011

A well-known use of perchlorate is as a rocket fuel propellant; however, more widespread uses include in munitions and fireworks, and it also occurs naturally. Perchlorate suppresses the thyroid, which can lead to a variety of adverse effects. It is a widespread contaminant in the United States, but limited occurrence data in the United Kingdom exist, and even less for drinking water. Monitoring of 20 raw and treated drinking water sites in England and Wales, covering four seasonal periods, showed that perchlorate is a low-level background contaminant of raw and treated drinking water. Low concentrations (treated drinking water: <0.020-2.073μg/L, mean 0.747μg/L) were detected at every higher-risk site. The concentrations were comparable in each of the four sampling exercises and no significant trends were apparent relating to the time of year, the type of risk or the method of chlorination. Limited data showed that removal by ion exchange and granular-activated carbon may occur. © 2010 WRc plc. Water and Environment Journal © 2010 CIWEM.

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