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Trace amounts of drugs found in treated wastewater

LAWRENCEVILLE - Caffeine is so prevalent these days it's even in Lake Lanier.

Preliminary tests found trace amounts of two prescription drugs in wastewater after it completed treatment at the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center, the Buford plant that treats the majority of the county's waste.

But the tests also showed that caffeine found at Gwinnett's intake pipe at Lake Lanier is dispelled through treatment before it reaches faucets.

Neal Spivey, director of water production for the Gwinnett Department of Water Resources, said the February sampling - the first in a yearlong study of prescription drugs in the water supply - may be an anomaly, but the study could lead to tweaks in the county's treatment processes.

"The drinking water is perfectly safe," Spivey said after a presentation to the Water and Sewerage Authority. "We knew this would be an issue at some point. ... I was pleased with what I saw."

Spivey said the Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating future water standards based on prescriptions.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina, found 17 of 19 classes of compounds in effluent during some phase at the Hill plant. Spivey said the drugs get into water because some people flush their prescriptions down the toilet. Some prescriptions are expelled from the body in waste, as well.

At the end of the treatment process, when the treated wastewater is discharged into the Chattahoochee River, it contained traces of two classes of compounds, an antibiotic and an anti-convulsant, Spivey said. Both were found in diluted quantities of 40 parts per trillion, but Spivey declined to comment on the impact of the drugs to the public.

In a couple of years, the county will begin to discharge its wastewater into Lake Lanier, which is also the county's drinking water supply.

"We will have a report at the end of the year that gives us an assessment," Spivey said. "There's a real good chance the process could be tweaked slightly to get rid of all those things."