[Pharmwaste] New Program Keeps Drugs Out of Rivers - West VA

Tenace, Laurie Laurie.Tenace at dep.state.fl.us
Thu Nov 20 11:00:46 EST 2008


New Program Keeps Drugs Out of Rivers
Posted Thursday, November 20, 2008 ; 06:00 AM

A new consumer drug return program is one group's answer to the ongoing
problem of poor fish health in the Potomac River and its tributaries. 

A new consumer drug return program is one group's answer to the ongoing
problem of poor fish health in the Potomac River and its tributaries. 

Potomac Water Watch's pilot program aims to educate the public about the fate
of disposed drugs and, at the same time, to keep waste drugs out of the

"I think that flushing drugs is probably the worst thing you can do," said
program organizer Margaret Janes, in contradiction to common wisdom. 

The problems in the Potomac began more than five years ago with reports of
fish lesions, mass fish kills and declines in smallmouth bass populations in
the river's West Virginia headwaters. 

Scientists examining the fish then and every year since have found that some
male fish are producing eggs, a condition called "intersex." 

Highest on the long list of suspected causes are estrogens in untreated human
and livestock urine and in discarded birth control pills, along with
antimicrobial chemicals, compounds that make plastics flexible, and

What are the origins of these substances? 

Many people have looked to the region's poultry industry. 

After years of studies, though, researchers have been unable to pinpoint
agriculture or any other specific cause for the fish kills or for the
intersex problem. 

"Very likely no one source is to blame," said Janes, senior policy analyst
with PWW member group the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the
Environment. "And certainly no one (source) has been ruled out." 

But another likely source besides agriculture, Janes said, is discarded

"A standard sewage treatment plant is not efficient enough to get rid of
those trace contaminants," she said. "And typically, at most sewage treatment
plants, you would find a whole series of drugs: birth control pills,
caffeine, all sorts of things." 

What is surprising, she said, is that while dispensing and procuring drugs is
highly regulated, consumers have long been instructed to dispose of drugs
simply by flushing. 

Not so anymore. 

With the emerging understanding that these substances elude wastewater
treatment and enter waterways, flushing no longer is recommended. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated its guidelines in February 2007
by recommending that consumers "foul" waste drugs: mix them with something
unpalatable such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, seal them in a
nondescript plastic bag and place them in the trash. 

But the flushing habit persists, and even fouling leaves open the eventuality
that the drugs will end up in surface or groundwater through the leakage that
leaches at all times from landfills. 

As a better alternative to either flushing or fouling, PWW has established
two locations where consumers can drop off their unwanted drugs beginning
Nov. 21: Judy's Drug Store in Petersburg and CVS Pharmacy in Moorefield. 

"They'll take back any medication except a controlled drug or a narcotic,"
said retired pharmacist Dixie Bean, who helped establish the program. 

The excluded drugs are those that have the potential for abuse, such as
OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. 

"If someone has those, then we hand them a paper that tells them how to foul
them," Bean said. 

A hazardous waste hauler will collect the dropped-off drugs periodically from
the pharmacies and incinerate them. 

PWW's Consumer Drug Return Program is the first in West Virginia and one of
few nationwide that operate continually rather than as a one- or two-day
event, Janes said. 

Bean is optimistic about the new program's potential. 

"I really do think people will respond because most people, as long as it
doesn't take a great deal of effort, want to do what's right for our
environment," she said. "I think that it will improve the quality of the
Potomac headwaters very much." 

PWW's program is supported by grants from the state departments of
agriculture and environmental protection. 

The group hopes to collect one to two 30-gallon drums of waste drugs each
year at the two participating pharmacies and plans to expand the program as
funding permits. 

Expired or unwanted pharmaceuticals may be dropped off starting Nov. 21 at
Judy's Drug Store at 24 N. Main St. in Petersburg or at CVS Pharmacy at 743
N. Main St. in Moorefield. 

Groups that are interested in establishing consumer drug return programs in
their areas can contact the state Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Water and Waste Management at (304) 926-0495 or contact Potomac
Water Watch at (304) 856-1385. For information, visit

Related Links:
Fish Kills Still Perplex Researchers, 5/23/2007:

Clues Emerge in South Branch Intersex Fish Study, 9/1/2006:

In W.Va., Some Male Fish Lay Eggs, 2/9/2005:

Laurie Tenace
Environmental Specialist
Waste Reduction Section
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Rd., MS 4555
Tallahassee FL 32399-2400
P: 850.245.8759
F: 850.245.8811

Mercury: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/categories/mercury/default.htm 

Unwanted Medicine:

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