May 13, 2009

Gillibrand Announces New Legislation to Investigate Trace Amounts of Pharmaceuticals in New York Water

As A Member of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Gillibrand Will Play Leading Role in Formation of Water Infrastructure Bill Moving Through Congress This Week

Washington, D.C. - In response to reports of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, including estrogen and codeine, found in New York waterways and around the country, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced legislative action to study the presence of these drugs in drinking water and the long term health effects on children and families. Senator Gillibrand will work to move her provision this week when the Senate considers comprehensive legislation to improve water infrastructure across the country.

"As a lawmaker and mother of two young children, I expect that America's drinking water is clean and free of these kinds of pharmaceuticals," said Senator Gillibrand. "As we upgrade our failing water infrastructure, it is important that we also address the safety of our drinking water. Right now the federal government does not have adequate data on the long term health effects of these trace chemicals.  Parents count on the government to ensure clean, safe drinking water for all our families."

In 2007, an Associated Press investigation reported that water supplies across the United States contained a number of drugs, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones.

Senator Gillibrand's provision will require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water, identify exactly what is found and at what level, where it's coming from, and how to control, limit, treat or prevent the dissemination of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. The EPA will have two years to produce the study.

There is currently no comprehensive data available on the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water or its long term health effects. While there are no confirmed health risks associated with consumption of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the water, there is no definitive assessment to rule out potential danger. In fact, some studies have shown that traces of pharmaceuticals may be harming fish in New York City's Jamaica Bay due to increased levels of the female hormone estrone or other estrogenic chemicals discovered in the waterway.

As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Senator Gillibrand will play a leading role in drafting the Water Infrastructure Financing Act. Communities across New York State are struggling with deteriorating water infrastructure and the tremendous costs to rebuild. Senator Gillibrand will work to deliver federal dollars to these communities across New York State to rebuild failing sewers and water filtration systems, creating thousands of jobs and reducing the local property tax burden.

"In my travels across the state, I've found that local officials are emphatic about the need for more federal funds to help local communities rebuild and update failing water infrastructure.  As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I will work hard to ensure New York gets its fair share of federal money to rebuild our sewers and water filtration systems, creating good paying jobs and reducing the property tax burden for local communities," Senator Gillibrand added.

Senator Gillibrand's other priorities for the Water Infrastructure Financing Act:

Increase Funding For Water Infrastructure

Across New York, communities are burdened by antiquated water systems that do not adequately serve residents or businesses. According to reports released by the New York State Department's of Health and Environmental Conservation, New York will need at least $75 billion for repairing, replacing, and updating aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Senator Gillibrand is working to ensure that local taxpayers aren't stuck footing the bill for New York's failing infrastructure.

Nationwide there is a need to invest $334.8 billion for water infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years to ensure safe water supplies, according to the latest survey completed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2007. In addition, a 2004 EPA study cited the need to invest $202 billion over 20 years to maintain and upgrade wastewater treatment facilities to prevent untreated sewage from flowing into lakes, rivers and streams, and protect human and environmental health.

As Senator Gillibrand tours the state discussing the economy, community leaders express frustration about finding ways to finance expensive drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Without the support from the federal government, communities could be forced to raise local taxes on residents in order to finance projects.

Senator Gillibrand will work to increase investment for water infrastructure, not only as a way to ease the local tax burden, but also to create jobs and build a foundation for long-term economic growth. Senator Gillibrand will fight to increase the authorization of funds under the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, and make sure New York receives its fair share of the funding.

Invest in "Green" Infrastructure

"Green" infrastructure has the potential to create jobs, reduce energy costs, and protect the environment in New York and throughout the country. Communities in New York are looking to go "green" by using innovate design techniques and technologies when building or improving their water and wastewater systems.

Water treatment facilities in New York consume more than 3 billion kWh of electricity per year - enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes in New York for a year. Senator Gillibrand will push for funding for energy efficient upgrades to water and wastewater facilities that will reduce operating expenses and ease the local tax burden.

In New York's urban areas, the construction of green roofs helps to ease rainwater intake into municipal systems, as well as reduce energy costs for the building. Green roofs are an affordable investment and an effective tool in areas where green space is limited.

Natural water systems, such as wetlands and lagoons, can be used to improve water quality of treated wastewater before it returns to rivers, lakes, and streams.  These systems can remove harmful chemicals, such as nitrogen as phosphorus, as well as bacteria, which harms the ecosystem and our state's economy through decreased tourism, recreation, and economic activity.

Senator Gillibrand will work to encourage development of "green" infrastructure by providing lower interest loans and other incentives for communities that go "green."

Invest in New York's Rural Communities

Roughly a quarter of New York's land is farmland and almost half of its counties are classified as rural.  New York is home to 36,000 farms and agriculture is one of the primary economic drivers for the state, contributing almost $4 billion to New York's economy. Because of the low density of our rural communities, towns and villages across New York face enormous challenges financing costly water and wastewater projects with little local revenue.

Senator Gillibrand will work to ensure that our rural communities have the resources they need to repair, replace, and update their aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure by advocating for increased incentives for our small communities.

In addition, many rural communities rely on well systems rather than large municipal systems.  It is important that our rural communities not only receive financial assistance, but also technical assistance to help with the maintenance of these systems.

Our farms are critical to our state's economy, which is why it is important to provide resources to assist our farmers with pollution-preventative measures to protect waters on and near our farms

Modernize Wastewater Systems to Protect Environment

Many New York communities have combined sewer systems where wastewater and rain runoff are carried by a single pipe. When there are heavy rains or snow melts, the system can easily reach capacity. To prevent flooding or damage to the treatment plant, combined sewer systems are designed to dump excess wastewater into nearby streams, rivers, or lakes. The combined sewer overflows do not just discharge excess storm water, but also untreated human and industrial waste. This threatens environmental health, human health, and the local economy.

In New York City, 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water are released into New York Harbor each year. Senator Gillibrand is fighting for federal dollars to fix these systems to prevent combined sewer overflows and protect the health and well-being of our communities and the environment.

In addition, Senator Gillibrand is pushing for research and development of new, innovate technologies and designs to improve drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. She is working to create a research program for water quality enhancement and management, efficiency conservation, and water reuse.  These investments can help save communities millions of dollars as they look to improve their drinking water and wastewater systems.