Scottsdale began testing for potential trace pharmaceuticals entering the city’s water supply at least three years ago, and began looking for a consultant to develop treatment options three days before an Associated Press investigation thrust the issue into the national spotlight.
It likely will be months, however, before the recommendations are complete, said Suzanne Grendahl, water quality director.
Grendahl said the city’s been aware for several years of reports about the potential for drugs in very small concentrations that enter water supplies.
“We had heard that it was out there,” she said. “This is nothing new to the city.”
At least three years ago, Scottsdale conducted tests for drugs in the city’s wastewater, she said. The main theory is that drugs which are incompletely absorbed by the body enter the wastewater system, and are not totally removed by treatment. The water then reenters source water supplies like reservoirs and rivers, according to the AP.
“We know that’s where it would likely be,” Grendahl said of the city’s sewage. “We began there to see if there were any present.”
The testing process is laborious, since there is no single test for all the various pharmaceuticals. Rather, water samples have to be put through a battery of tests, Grendahl said.
“It’s highly specialized laboratory equipment with very specific detectors,” she said.
She said the results of those previous wastewater tests were not immediately available Friday. But on March 7, the city issued a request for proposals from consultants to design an expansion at the Scottsdale Water Campus, 8787 E. Hualapai Drive.
The consultants would be expected to conduct a new round of tests, then use the results to draft recommendations on how the city ought to improve its water treatment system to remove whatever drugs the testing discovers, she said. The consultant selection process is slated to begin April 18. It’s unclear at the moment how much those potential additions could cost.
The city’s request was issued three days before the AP published its investigation into the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas. The investigations uncovered trace amounts of drugs ranging from antibiotics to sex hormones in the drinking water of at least 41 million people.
Potential trace drug concentrations are not something that can be boiled out of water or otherwise easily removed, Grendahl said. Cooperation among Valley cities and towns, which share many of the same source waters, could prove more cost effective and efficient than having each city doing all the work on its own, she said.