DEC Tells New Yorkers: Don't Flush Medications

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation launched a new initiative to help reduce the growing presence of pharmaceuticals in waterbodies, according to an Aug. 8 press release.

The "Don't Flush Your Drugs" campaign and Web site, http://www.dontflushyourdrugs.net , will help raise public awareness and provide information about how to dispose of medicines properly to help prevent problems with water quality in the future.

Recent reports have shown that an array of medicines are showing up in rivers and streams as well as in the drinking water supplies of a number of American cities. Though no New York community was singled out, these news reports indicate that pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics -- can be found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. The concentrations of the pharmaceuticals are far below typical medical doses, but studies have found problematic impacts on wildlife and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that the issue is a serious concern.

"It is critical that all New Yorkers do their part to protect the state's water resources," said Gov. David A. Paterson. "While recognizing that the presence of pharmaceuticals in the water is a multi-faceted issue with no single solution or easy technological fix, all of us need to take precautionary action on the things we can affect immediately."

"This is an emerging environmental issue and the consequences are not yet clear," Commissioner Grannis said. "New Yorkers can help out by not flushing unused drugs and instead using alternate disposal methods. We recognize that we're now asking residents to change something that has been standard practice for years, but we know everyone wants to protect New York's water quality and public health."

Scientists say pharmaceuticals get into water by a variety of ways: individuals and institutions flush unused drugs, unabsorbed drugs pass through the human body, pharmaceuticals may not be completely decomposed in septic tanks, and drug manufacturers discharge pharmaceutical wastes. Wastewater treatment plants are not specifically designed to eliminate these types of chemicals, so treatment of municipal and industrial discharge is not the entire answer. Drinking water treatment plants also don't necessarily remove all drug residues.

Under the new campaign, DEC will take pro-active steps to address the issue. These include educating the public about the potential hazards of pharmaceuticals in the water and about the proper disposal of unused drugs. This will include consumer guidance on DEC's Web site and education materials in pharmacies.

Instead of flushing medicines, New Yorkers should place their unused, unwanted or expired drugs in the trash, taking care to destroy or disguise them to avoid misuse or misdirection. Adding water, salt, ashes, or coffee grounds to unused medications before placing them in the trash can further guard against misuse.

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