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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Don’t flush meds

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a reminder to New Yorkers not to flush expired or unused medications down the toilet.

“Flushed medications can get into our lakes, rivers and streams where they can affect fish and other aquatic wildlife,” the DEC said.

Last spring, an Associated Press investigation found small concentrations of medications, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones, in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans.

While utilities insist that the water is safe — and the amount of pharmaceuticals is low — scientists are still concerned that so many prescription medications are turning up in drinking water. Add to prescription medications a host of over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, and non-medical chemicals such as caffeine, and you have a mixture that at the least raises worries about long-term health consequences.

How do drugs get into the water?

Some medications are not fully broken down in your body, and end up in waste flushed down the toilet. As more Americans rely on anti-depressants, sleeping pills and antibiotics, there’s more of a danger of those drugs winding up in our water.

While wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes, and cleaned again at drinking water treatment plants, most treatments do not remove all drug residue, according to the Associated Press.

Concerns over medicines in the water range widely, from pathogens that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, to endocrine problems stemming from exposure to drugs. Some scientists link mutations in fish and other aquatic life to pharmaceuticals in the water. Some activists question whether high cancer rates and early-onset puberty could be related to drugs in the water supply. The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water.

Doctors and pharmacists used to recommend that you flush any unused or expired prescription medication, as a precaution to keep it away from children. But that recommendation is changing to protect the water supply.

The DEC has tips for proper disposal of pharmaceuticals here. The federal EPA also has tips, here.

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