New Law Addresses Drinking Water Contamination by Improper Disposal of Medications

Requires a public information campaign and authorizes a demonstration program for effective drug collection methods
November 5, 2008

Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D, E. Setauket) announced Governor David Paterson’s approval of his bill A.840-B (S.7560, Senator James Alesi) that requires the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in cooperation with the Department of Health (DOH), to conduct an extensive public information campaign on the proper storage and disposal of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Furthermore, the DEC will be responsible for developing a notice containing proper disposal information that would be displayed in every pharmacy and in all retail businesses with more than 3,000 square feet of retail space that are authorized to sell drugs. Finally, the new law authorizes DEC to establish or enter into contracts for the establishment of a demonstration program to determine the most effect methods of drug disposal.

Assemblyman Englebright stated “Currently the only options for disposal of unwanted, unused or expired prescription and OTC drugs are flushing or washing them down the drain or throwing them out with the garbage. Many recent studies have demonstrated that drinking water is being contaminated with common medications, including antibiotics. We are creating a national health hazard through our indiscriminant and inappropriate pharmaceutical disposal practices.”

Englebright continued, “I have introduced legislation to correct this significant problem for the past four years. My original proposal was more far-reaching and would have established a drug collection system statewide to be conducted and paid for by the pharmaceutical companies. However, this new law is a good first step toward a comprehensive drug collection program and I am hopeful we can build on our progress during the next few years.”

There have been a handful of drug collections in the Northeast, including a one-day collection program in Maine, which although successful, have barely scraped the surface of this problem. British Columbia has been operating a successful medication recovery program for more than 10 years, funded by an association of more than 100 drug companies as a “cost of doing business. The State of Washington has been conducting a pilot project since October 2006, which now includes collection sites at all 25 Group Health clinics. Manufacturer–based collection programs are also working in Australia, Prince Edward Island, France, Italy and several other European countries.

Assemblyman Englebright noted “It is time for New York to step forward to assist the public in the proper disposal of unwanted or unused drugs. We cannot continue to allow accidental poisonings or to flush away these often dangerous drugs, to the detriment of the population and the environment.”

The Assemblyman noted that an Associated Press story uncovered a wide variety of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones, in the drinking water of at least 41 million Americans in 24 cities. He further stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to regulate the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water supplies.