March 11, 2008

My science project? There’s something in the water

students: Christian Academy seniors Corey Hall, left, and Mazie Walthall found 17b Estradiol in Floyds Fork Recreation Area.Christian Academy seniors Mazie Walthall and Corey Hall know how to stir up trouble, but not the kind that gets your knuckles rapped with a ruler.More than a month before last week’s EPA release of a controversial study uncovering a litany of drugs in the nation’s drinking water, the pair found high levels of 17b Estradiol in the water in Floyds Fork Creek, Chenoweth Run Creek and around the Jeffersontown Wastewater Treatment plant.Estradiol is an estrogenic hormone produced by humans, and is widely used in hormone treatments. The body does not retain all of the hormone, which can be excreted through urine.The original sample, taken 100 feet downstream from the Jeffersontown Wastewater Treatment plant, tested positive for the hormone. The students took five more samples at 90, 80, 60, 50 and 10 feet. Each time, the water tested positive for the hormone.Teena Halbig, president of Floyds Fork Environmental Association, says the students came up with the idea to test the water after she told Hall about high levels of hormones in rivers and streams in other states going back to 2005.“This is an emerging contaminant of concern,” she wrote in an e-mail to LEO. “It is alarming that others are finding these things in municipal water systems. No one knows the long-term effect on humans, but sex-altered fish and other anomalies are being seen. It makes one wonder, what else is in our streams that no one is testing for?”Halbig, who has studied water issues in Floyds Fork for 16 years, points out findings from scientific journals worldwide about the dangers to fish and other aquatic life. A report from November 2005 in the Dutch journal Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology said that “… 17b –Estradiol (E2), Estrone and Ethynylestradiol discharged from sewage treatment plants into surface waters, are seen as a threat effecting aquatic life by its estrogenic character.”Halbig asked the state Division of Water to test the groundwater and surface water at these sites, because there are still some county residents who drink water from a well or cistern. Walthall, 17, who wants to be a nurse someday, said she was shocked by the results. “In the beginning, we were just looking for a science project,” but she says she tested her tap water at her house, “and it was fine.”“We thought we wouldn’t find anything, because we thought, it’ll just be a science fair project, and we really didn’t know,” says Hall, also 17.“This sort of thing hasn’t been tested before in Floyds Fork Creek where we had found it. It’s opened up so many new insights, and (is) starting to bring more attention to how we filter our water.”Chief Engineer Derek Guthrie of the Metropolitan Sewer District says he wants to see the data, but he lamented that MSD lacks the personnel to study how pharmaceuticals we ingest affect waste water.“That’s one of the questions,” he says. “We don’t have a lot of data on the ‘fade and transport’ of prescription drugs into our human waste stream. We as an industry are going to look at the technology available to remove it.”He did say that MSD has always discouraged people from flushing prescription drugs. Contact the writer at mherron@leoweekly.com