Leah (Bowe) O'Neill

2007 Public Policy Summer Fellow

May 1, 2007
Graduate Degree:UMass Boston
Undergraduate Degree:University of Wisconsin – Madison
Areas of interest:Environmental issues
Agency:Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA)
Supervisor:Marian Orfeo, Director of Planning and Coordination, Joshua Das, Project Manager for Public Health, and Andrea Rex, Director of ENQUAD
Project description:Studies in many countries have demonstrated the presence, and in some cases, negative effects of pharmaceutical products at trace levels in water streams. The major inputs of pharmaceuticals come from households and hospitals, due to excretion and improper disposal of unwanted or expired medications. This summer Leah worked with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to determine the inputs of pharmaceuticals to their service area, analyze prevention and treatment methods, and establish future policies. Several potential approaches to this issue are possible: relying on government regulation, implementing proper disposal methods, rethinking and redesigning sewage treatment, and/or developing more environmentally friendly pharmaceuticals. She believes the best approach to prevent trace contamination of pharmaceuticals in the environment and drinking water is to substantially reduce the quantities initially entering raw sewage. More research is needed to increase our knowledge and understanding of the fate of drugs in surface waters, their degradation products, the complexity of mixtures, and the role of environmental monitoring.