Drug Waste in Our Water

Damien Hirst Exhibition of Medicine Cabinets

Damien Hirst Exhibition of Medicine Cabinets

My friend, Eddie, just experienced an excruciating month of pain due to a herniated disc in his lower back.  Meds were prescribed to help before injection treatments and physical therapy could be scheduled.  Now he has to dispose of the unused drugs.

This brings to light the increasing amount of pharmaceutical and personal care products that are entering our water system.  Perfumes, cologne, lotions, sunscreens, caffeine, prescription drugs and over the counter medications are all ending up in our drinking water.

Even the “champagne” of water coming from NYC’s highly monitored and pristine reservoirs has measurable amounts of these substances.  Since human health risks are not yet established the tests were not included in their final reports.  Conclusive studies are, however, showing that marine life is affected. Just google fish drugs water.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stopped recommending flushing unwanted pharmaceuticals down the toilet.

Flushing unwanted pills is only one of many ways drugs get into our drinking water.   Our bodies metabolize just a small fraction of the drugs we take so the remainder is excreted.

Drugs in the form of creams or lotions are showered off.

Medical facilities discard large amounts of drugs.  Pharmacies have strict disposal rules and regulations but many elder care or out patient facilities and clinics do not.

Drug manufacturing causes pharmaceutical water pollution.      http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1656/20130571

Agriculture is another major source.  The trillions of pounds of animal waste generated by large-scale poultry and livestock operations in the USA is laced with hormones and antibiotics fed to animals to make them grow faster and to keep them from getting sick.  Stock yards are not exactly sealed off environments.

Sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water.  Some pharmaceutical contamination is removed when water goes through conventional treatment methods that could result in a 90% decrease in the amount of ibuprofen and naproxen, but has little effect on carbamazepine and diclofenac (a pain reliever).

If sewage treatment removes pharmaceuticals from the water, then it is concentrated in the sludge.  Sludge is used as fertilizer, so the pharmaceuticals are getting into the environment in other ways.

Drinking-water treatment also gets rid of some pharmaceutical contamination.  Chlorine is used to kill bacteria and other pathogens. It also reduces the impact of acetaminophen, codeine, carbamazepine and the antibiotic sulfathiazole by as much as 75%.

Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinets

Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinets

Antibiotics, beta blockers, stimulants, steroids, analgesics, selective inhibitors, hormones, anti-anxiety meds, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants and anti-epileptic drugs are just a short list of pharmaceuticals being measured in our drinking water.

If you drink municipal water you live in a watershed.  A watershed is a large area of land that feeds water to rivers and lakes from numerous sources.  Riverkeepers played a critical role in the first broad-based watershed legislation that protects our drinking water.  They watchdog compliance enforcement in NYC’s three major watershed regions.  Their work encompasses the enforcement of environmental laws; monitoring sprawl development in the watershed; working with communities and government on proactive programs to achieve long-term protection of the NYC Watershed; advocating for stronger watershed protection policies on a local, state and federal level; and encouraging New Yorkers to choose tap water over bottled water.

What You Can Do:

  • Support legislation to set standards for how controlled substances are disposed.  Non-retrievable standards such as incineration or chemical digestion are the most strict.  These permanently alter the physical or chemical state, making the substance unusable for all practical purposes.
  • Support options to legally expand the collection of unused, unwanted or expired substances such as take-back events, mail-back programs, and 24 hour securely locked public receptacles.
  • Major pharmacies sell specially designed addressed envelopes for mailing to safe disposal facilities.
  • Your trashcan is a last resort:  If there are no local medicine disposal alternatives, the FDA recommends throwing away old medicine in a plastic bag after mixing it with kitty litter or coffee grounds, but the bag ends up in a landfill unregulated.
  • Look for National Drug Take Back Days in your area.
  • The National Community of Pharmacists Association has a good website. http://www.disposemymeds.org.
  • You can help prevent drug misuse and abuse. Once you have taken your prescriptions home, keep them out of sight and reach of children.  Avoid taking them in front of children, as they tend to mimic adults.
  • Never give your medications to anyone else or take someone else’s medications.
  • Proper disposal helps prevent ingesting expired medications. Drugs are not stable substances.  They have expiration dates for a reason.  Changing drugs may be harmful.
  • Teenagers use prescription drugs to get their first highs.  Keep track of storing and using your medications.

Until next week,    Unknown-1

Garbage Girl



One thought on “Drug Waste in Our Water

  1. Pingback: Drug Waste in Our Water | Our Waste Matters | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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