Water is Lethal? – by Mieke Hulshof

Aniek Hilkens, coordinator at RUW, introduced the evening. So much has been written about hormones, contaminants, pharmaceutics, etc in surface & drinking water, but what is true and false? And what are the effects of their presence? What are the possible solutions?

Cindy the Jongh from the KWR Watercycle Research Institute opened the lecture series. She told us that research, among others measuring Thine water quality at Lobith, has pointed out that surface water is definitely polluted with tons of contaminants. Moreover, studies indicate that the amounts of pharmaceuticals and transformation products are increasing. But how risky are these amounts? How about human health? Cindy ensures that we do not have to worry about the quality of our tap water (in The Netherlands!). Measured values are much lower than the calculated (provisional) drinking water guideline values.

The second lecture was given by Ivo Roessink from Alterra. He focused specifically on hormones. For all those, like me, not having any knowledge on the topic he shortly explained the basics about hormones. “Hormones are chemicals released by one cell to influence other cells”; the most important aspects in this is the fact that the lock-and-key principle is applicable, receptors are very specific. Yet, it is also a fact that hormones are everywhere, also the ones not belonging to the environment, e.g.: cattle are provided with hormones to grow faster, everybody is on drugs (anti-histamines, paracetamol, etc). In addition, since water is not that different from blood, hormones do travel very fast through both water treatment plants and the surface water system. Ivo states that despite their abundance the hormones themselves have not been proven to be a big problem. Nonetheless, there are other products that do have a similar-to-hormones effect on fauna and flora (e.g.: tributyltin). Ivo’s main message is that effects are never immediately visible and cause-effect relations are difficult to establish. So, not much is known but it is clear that effects might be enormous.

After the break, Wilko Verweij (RIVM) closes the evening with a presentation on possible solutions. As a start he stresses the importance of the problem definition. For this reasons, he first reviews the emission-exposure-risk chain. It turns out that, at the moment, pharmaceuticals in drinking water are not a threat to human health. Yet, there is a demonstrable ecological risk and a big question mark about human health in the future. Together with his colleagues Wilko made up a series of solutions that could be implemented. Though an exhaustive list can be looked up in the presentation, I would like to take over Wilko’s message that there are other than end-of-the-pipeline solutions. E.g.: reduce emissions, better disposal of non-used pharmaceuticals, separate treatment of urine, green pharmacy, and many other.

In my opinion, the main message of the evening was that we do not have to worry about human health at this moment but we should about its future. Finally, one has to become aware of the environmental effects and come up with suitable solutions to counteract!

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