[Pharmwaste] 'Properly Disposed Drugs Can End Up In Water - Health News Story - KITV Honolulu'

Massoomi, Fred Fred.Massoomi at nmhs.org
Mon Feb 8 11:18:31 EST 2010

"Properly Disposed Drugs Can End Up In Water - Health News Story - KITV

CLARKE CANFIELD, Associated Press Writer
POSTED: 8:44 am HST February 7, 2010
UPDATED: 10:39 am HST February 7, 2010

PORTLAND, Maine -- The federal government advises throwing most unused
or expired medications into the trash instead of down the drain, but
they can end up in the water anyway, a study from Maine suggests.

Tiny amounts of discarded drugs have been found in water at three
landfills in the state, confirming suspicions that pharmaceuticals
thrown into household trash are ending up in water that drains through
waste, according to a survey by the state's environmental agency that's
one of only a handful to have looked at the presence of drugs in

That landfill water -- known as leachate -- eventually ends up in
rivers. Most of Maine doesn't draw its drinking water from rivers where
the leachate ends up, but in other states that do, water supplies that
come from rivers could potentially be contaminated.

The results of the survey are being made known as lawmakers in Maine
consider a bill, among the first of its kind in the nation, that would
require drug manufacturers to develop and pay for a program to collect
unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs from residents and
dispose of them.

Scientists and environmentalists have long known of the common presence
of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, either
through human excretion flushed into sewers or leftover medicine thrown
down the drain. Research shows that pharmaceuticals sometimes harm fish
and other aquatic species, and that human cells can fail to grow
normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of
certain drugs.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection found tiny amounts --
measured in parts per trillion -- of medications ranging from
antidepressants and birth control pills to blood pressure and
cholesterol prescriptions. The most prevalent drugs were
over-the-counter pain relievers, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

"People need a way to properly dispose of their drugs, and they're not
getting it right now," said Mark Hyland, director of the state
Department of Environmental Quality's Bureau of Remediation and Waste

The bill is one of many "take-back" programs under consideration in more
than half a dozen states and would be the first of its kind if enacted;
it has won committee support and awaits further action.

The bill is opposed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
America, a Washington-based organization that represents pharmaceutical
and biotechnology companies and has partnered with other groups to pay
for advertising against the proposal.

The lobby acknowledges that previous testing shows trace levels of
pharmaceuticals can be found in water supplies and landfills, but says
the levels are so small that they pose little risk.

"The amounts of pharmaceuticals (in the environment) are infinitesimally
small," said Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel. "We're
talking about two drops in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Those two
drops are much lower than any doses that would have an effect on

The state last October tested leachate at landfills in Augusta,
Brunswick and Bath. Hyland ordered up the study after members of the
pharmaceutical industry expressed skepticism about the presence of
pharmaceuticals in landfill water.

Leachate at Maine landfills typically is piped or trucked to municipal
wastewater treatment plants. Those plants are not equipped to remove
drugs from the water before it is discharged into rivers and the ocean.

The pharmaceuticals found in the landfills don't pose a direct threat to
drinking water, Hyland said. The landfills are lined to protect
groundwater supplies, and in Maine there aren't any wastewater plants
that treat leachate and discharge into rivers that ultimately supply
drinking water.

But the leachate -- in high enough concentrations -- can pose a threat
to fish and shellfish. Research suggests that hormonal drugs, such as
birth control pills, tend to feminize fish. If the trend continues,
Hyland said, there could be too few male fish to continue reproduction.

"What you find are greater concentrations of females downstream from
where they've seen a dose of hormones, so you find a feminization of the
fish population where there are fewer males around," he said.

Hyland said he has questions about the effect on commercial seafood --
one of Maine's biggest industries -- in ocean waters downstream from the
rivers, particularly bivalves such as clams or mussels, which filter
water constantly and live near the shore.

"But obviously we need to know a lot more before we can draw a lot of
conclusions," Hyland said.

Although landfill leachate doesn't get into drinking water supplies in
Maine, it probably does elsewhere, said Andy Tolman, a geologist with
the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And some scientists
urge caution about the dangers of drinking such water over several

"Many larger states have big rivers that are used for both waste
disposal and drinking water supplies, places like Ohio and
Pennsylvania," Tolman said. "The same river gets used a number of times,
and they're very concerned about treatment of sewage and leachate."

Powell, from the pharmaceutical lobby, argued that people can properly
dispose of their drugs in their household trash. In Maine, much of the
trash is burned, she said, and pollution control experts agree that
incinerating unwanted drugs is the safest solution.

She argued that if the bill does pass, it will only make drugs more
expensive, she said.

Concerns have grown in recent years over pharmaceuticals reaching
drinking water supplies. An Associated Press investigation in 2008
reported that the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans
contains minute concentrations of a multitude of drugs.

It's commonly believed that the vast majority of drugs that get into
water supplies come from human and animal excretion and that smaller
amounts come from flushing them down the toilet or drain, a practice the
Food and Drug Administration says is not recommended for most

Federal guidelines recommend using community drug take-back programs to
dispose of medications. If those aren't available, people should mix
their unwanted drugs with cat litter or some other undesirable
substance, put them into a sealed container and put it in the trash,
according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The link:

Firouzan 'Fred' Massoomi, Pharm.D., FASHP
Nebraska Methodist Hospital
Pharmacy Operations Coordinator
Department of Pharmacy Services
8303 Dodge St.
Omaha, NE  68114
fred.massoomi at nmhs.org
(402) 354-4340 office            (402) 354-3139 fax
A proud supporter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society
P Think Green & Think before YOU print.

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