[Pharmwaste] The Philadelphia Inquirer - - Editorial: Drug Disposal; A prescription for cleaner water

Thompson.Virginia at epamail.epa.gov Thompson.Virginia at epamail.epa.gov
Mon Mar 31 15:09:55 EDT 2008

Thanks to our press office for forwarding this editorial from last


Posted on Tue, Mar. 25, 2008
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Editorial: Drug Disposal
A prescription for cleaner water

OK . . . take a deep breath, have a drink of water, and look at this
For more than a decade, studies have shown that pharmaceutical drugs and
their by-products are finding their way into the water supply, affecting
the drinking water of millions of Americans.

A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study found that 80 percent of the streams
tested had measurable amounts of drugs, steroids and reproductive
hormones. Recent studies of Philadelphia-area supplies showed 56
pharmaceuticals or their by-products in treated drinking water; 63 such
compounds were discovered in city watersheds.

This is mostly a legacy of being rich enough to afford good health care.
The sources for our local water have concentrations of these compounds,
but the good news is that water-treatment facilities have good ways to
filter out most of them.

It's not clear yet how trace pharmas in water affect the human body. The
amounts are extremely tiny - but they are powerful, they're there
long-term, and who wants them? It's not cause for panic or paranoia -
it's cause for more study.

What science does know is that trace pharmas in water have a profound
effect on plant and animal populations around the world. No doubt about
that one.

How do the drugs get there? One way we can't do much about: They move
through the human body and out again into the water supply.
What we can change is the heedless way we dispose of the drugs. We throw
them in the trash - or, worse, flush them right into the water supply.
So what should we do with untaken drugs?

Follow the advice of the Office of National Drug Control Policy:
(a) Trash with care - mix them with coffee grounds or cat litter (to
discourage garbage drug thieves), seal them in a plastic bag, and then
put them in the trash. Dumps and landfills often have linings that can
prevent properly sealed drugs from leaching into groundwater.
(b) Use drug take-back programs, run by some hospitals and pharmacies
(check with your local) and a few drug companies.
In the Pennsylvania legislature, House Bill 2073, now in committee (but
it's been there since November - giddyup!), is a good start. It requires
drug retailers to have take-back programs, and to inform consumers of
disposal options for unused drugs.

A lot else could happen:
Towns have special days and ways for picking up trees, electronic
components, batteries, etc. Why not do the same for unused drugs? Models
exist in Oregon, Wisconsin and California.

Drug companies should continue trying to design drugs so that their
post-metabolic remains are not water-soluble.
Everyone is entitled to water he or she can trust - and by and large, we
have it. You are what you drink - but you shouldn't be what other folks
throw away.

Virginia Thompson
Sustainable Healthcare Sector Coordinator
Office of Environmental Innovation (3EA40)
US Environmental Protection Agency Region 3
1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA  19103
Voice:  (215) 814-5755; Fax (215) 814-2783
thompson.virginia at epa.gov

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