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Flushing Drugs/Medications a Growing Concern for Environment
September 24, 2009

Flushing Drugs/Medications a Growing Concern for Environment

There is a growing concern that an increasing number of people are flushing unused, unwanted, or expired medications down the drain or toilet. Other sources may be hospitals, medical facilities, nursing homes, and vet clinics. This is a problem because it results in more compounds finding their way into the nation’s wastewater facilities.

Did you know that every day the average adult uses nine personal care products (such as shampoo, toothpaste, perfume, sunscreens, cosmetics, etc.) containing 126 unique compounds that could end up in our water? Add this to medications that include drugs such as hormones, antidepressants, and antibiotics and over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, cold/flu remedies, and antiseptics and you can see why disposal could be a problem.

The old accepted practice of flushing these products down the toilet is bad for our environment – the ground, water and air around us. Controlling what goes down the drain is the easiest and most effective way to protect the environment. Most wastewater treatment plants do not remove these contaminants: they are designed to remove conventional pollutants, such as suspended solids and organic materials.

Early signs of the problem were discovered in research conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 1999. Of the 60 pharmaceuticals the agency was testing for, it found 30 in 139 streams in 30 states. In addition, 80 percent of the streams had one or more contaminants, 54 percent had five or more, and 13 percent showed 20 or more.

We are asking citizens to do their part to keep pharmaceuticals out of the environment by never flushing them down the toilet or drain unless the label specifically instructs you to do so. The public can practice certain safety habits when disposing of them in the trash. If placing in the trash, which will go to a landfill, use the following Federal Guidelines from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

1) Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.

2) Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds. You may also crush pills and dilute liquid medicines in water first, then add them to the litter or used coffee grounds. This will keep children, pets and others out of the medicine and find it less attractive.

3) Put this mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.

4) Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.

5) Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.

A big question is what kind of environmental consequences does disposal of drugs pose to the ecosystems, and maybe in the long term, even to human health. There has been documented hormone disruption in fish and a reduction in the ability to fight off infection in animals and fish. According to the EPA, a major objective is a proactive versus a reactive approach to this emerging environment issue.

Some pharmacies might have a take-back program set up to take your old and unwanted medication. Call your pharmacy to see if they offer this service. Never give old medication away to family or friends. A prescription that was right for you might seriously harm another.

More information on these topics is available at the following Web sites:

Citizens can also call WPC at (816) 325-7711 for more information.

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