The U.S. Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works is considering giving EPA two years to identify pharmaceuticals and personal care products in wastewater and analyze the amount, sources, and potential treatment options to prevent them from entering the nation's drinking water.

The National Water Research and Development Initiative Act of 2009 passed the U.S. House of Representatives April 23 and was sent to the Senate. Designed to coordinate national research and development efforts regarding water use and supply, it calls for federal research on the impact of trace amounts of the compounds in treated drinking water.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) introduced the legislation after the National Science and Technology Council established the interagency Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality.

It's far too early to predict the legislation's potential impact on public works budgets. "It is unclear whether or not (treatment plants) would need to retrofit their systems to address pharmaceuticals and personal care products," says EPA Spokesperson Enesta Jones.

In March 2008 the Associated Press reported that traces of 36 compounds-including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, and mood stabilizers-were found in the nation's water supplies, leading to widespread concern over the effects of pharmaceuticals on public health.

The EPA already regulates the discharge of pharmaceuticals and their byproducts from manufacturing industries; this new research focuses on secondary sources such as medication residues passing through sewer systems and medications disposed of in household garbage. Currently the agency doesn't regulate the treatment of pharmaceuticals at wastewater treatment plants, and municipal facilities aren't engineered specifically to remove them.

The EPA estimates that in addition to antibiotics and steroids, more than 100 individual pharmaceuticals and personal care products have been identified in drinking water.In August 2008 the EPA began sampling for pharmaceuticals and personal care products in fish and surface water as part of its National Rivers and Stream Assessment. It will collect samples from about 150 randomly selected sites nationwide and report the results in 2011.