It’s a scary thought, but most of the drinking water in the United States is contaminated with pharmaceuticals.
In fact, a 2010 analysis by the EPA found that 54 different active pharmaceutical ingredients and 10 metabolites have been detected in treated drinking water.
The most common compounds were hormones (estrogen, primarily) and antibiotics, but painkillers and antidepressants show up frequently too. These contaminants are not typically filtered out by municipal water treatment practices, and so they end up in Baltimore’s rivers, harbor, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
How can you help prevent this pollution?
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and participating local law enforcement agencies are coordinating a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on September 26, 2015 from 10 am to 2 pm.
You can use this online resource to locate a collection site near you. We urge you to collect expired or unused medications from your home and the homes of your loved ones, and safely dispose of them at a registered location.
It’s not just a water quality problem.
Expired medications and unused drugs often remain in homes for years, in the back of cabinets or in drawers. This is a serious health hazard for children and toddlers, for whom even a small dose might be fatal.
How big is this problem?
According to the New York Times, EPA researchers have found this contaminants almost everywhere they’ve looked for them. In part, this is because the list of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) is so long:
- Prescription and over the counter drugs
- Veterinary drugs
- Insect repellents
- Antibiotic-containing microbial soaps and sprays
- Nutritional supplements
- Diagnostic agents
Many of these products are composed of complex chemical mixtures and currently, not much is known about their individual toxicity. Because of its risk uncertainty, increasing prevalence in waterways, and capability of passing through typical wastewater treatment plants untreated, PPCPs are considered an emerging environmental threat.
Maryland recently enacted a ban on personal care products containing plastic microbeads, another growing source of water and ocean pollution.
What research is being done with PPCPs?
In the state of Maryland, the Maryland Department of the Environment is researching the impacts of PPCPs, identifying PPCPs in water supplies, and to strengthening current water treatment methods. Through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), there is federal oversight of the management and disposal of pharmaceutical manufacturers’ and health care industry’s hazardous pharmaceutical wastes. RCRA does not regulate any household hazardous wastes.
How you can properly dispose of pharmaceuticals throughout the year?
Only flush prescription drugs down the toilet if the label or patient information explicitly instructs you to do so.
Otherwise, take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers (from which you can remove personal information from and recycle if you live in Baltimore City) and mix the drugs with used coffee grounds or cat litter inside an impermeable, nondescript container that can then be safely thrown away.
Better yet, look for a safe drop off program: many independent pharmacies accept expired and unused drugs. Visit www.DisposeMyMeds.org to find a nearby location.
Baltimore County also has three household hazardous waste drop off-centers and holds one-day collections events that are posted about here. Drugs can also be disposed of at drug drop-off boxes in front of a number of police precincts, also listed on the county website.
Remember, improperly disposing of your unused medicine, by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them away, has potential safety and health hazards. Prescription drug abuse is a big problem, and National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a great opportunity for residents of Baltimore to reduce that threat.