The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provided these responses to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s big-picture questions about its approach to endocrine disruptors.
Q: How would you describe the state’s approach to the emerging issue of endocrine disruptors in the environment? If there is no explicit policy laying out that approach, should there be one?
A: The policy for endocrine disrupters and any other contaminant of emerging concern is to follow EPA’s rule development process. This includes development of a contaminant candidate list, conducting unregulated contaminant monitoring, evaluating the health risks and costs of treatment and ultimately developing monitoring requirements and drinking water standards for those contaminants that pose the most significant health risks on a national basis. Currently there is no federal standard for endocrine disruptors.
It is also important to note that raising awareness of this issue is a very important goal and Wisconsin’s recent study on pharmaceutical disposal habits will be a very beneficial tool in this effort. Educating the public about the proper disposal of unused pharmaceutical products and providing opportunities for such disposal are an important step in reducing the percentage of contaminants in our waterways.
Q: Is there enough money to address the issue?
A: Funding is always an issue. Many of Wisconsin’s program are funded by federal programs. Wisconsin, as with other states, would not be able to financially support an independent drinking water regulatory program (that does not depend on national standard setting) given the many potential drinking water contaminants.
Q: Is the state’s approach to these chemicals adequate to protect wildlife and human health?
A: It is important to again stress that the EPA has not provided guidance to the states on how to further protect surface waters and drinking waters from pharmaceuticals. Our current program is what we believe to be an appropriate balance at this time while further research, technology and EPA guidance is developed.
Further, we know of no affordable technology in existence to remove endocrine disruptors from surface waters. Much like chlorides, they are dissolved and pass through a community’s treatment system. As a result, Wisconsin has emphasized source reduction of pharmaceuticals through the collection of unneeded pharmaceuticals in order to prevent their disposal in the toilet. Even if all expired and unwanted pharmaceuticals were disposed of correctly, the pharmaceuticals that pass through the human body and veterinarian products will still get into the sewer systems. This is not a simple situation to address and we have not seen any treatment systems to remove these products. As we learn more, additional actions are likely. The most important action that we can take right now is to focus on proper disposal.
Q: Should Wisconsin consider adopting a more comprehensive water surveillance program, similar to Minnesota’s?
A: We’re not familiar with MN’s specific program, however we are aware of the fact that they have more investigations supported by state funding. Our current surveillance program is supported by the resources we have available.
EPA: Endocrine disruptor program pace ‘has increased’
Seventeen years ago, Congress told the EPA to start screening chemicals for endocrine disruption. Yet in 2011 the EPA’s inspector general slammed the agency, saying the EPA still “has not determined whether any chemical is an endocrine disruptor.” The EPA provided this response to criticism that it was taking too long:
“Some endocrine studies needed to be developed from scratch which included developing and validating new test methods. All studies needed validation. The process of validating new test methods is a lengthy and scientifically rigorous process.
“Background Information: The Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program was developed in 1999. Since that time, the program has primarily focused on developing and validating state of the science test methods to address whether chemicals have the potential to interact with the endocrine system and subsequently whether chemicals can elicit adverse health outcomes, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The process of validating new test methods is a lengthly and scientifically rigorous process. In 2008, the agency completed its validation of the Tier 1 assays with the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel review. Shortly thereafter, test orders were issued for the initial list of chemicals for endocrine screening in 2009. We are currently in the process of scientific data reviews and will be finalizing the scientific validation efforts for more advanced, reproductive multigeneration test methods this summer. The pace of the program has increased as demonstrated by the many significant activities occurring in 2013, and these are described more fully in our EDSP Comprehensive Management Plan.”