Keep Drugs Out of Our Water
Today, nearly everyone in California is worried about water, and rightly
so. Will we have enough to meet our needs in the years to come? But, there
are other important water-related issues we should also be concerned about.
For example, water quality experts and environmental advocates are worried
about what chemicals in prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication
can do to our water supply when they are flushed down the drain or toilet.
This includes any prescription or non-prescription substances intended
to be swallowed, inhaled, injected, applied to the skin or eyes, or otherwise
absorbed by any area of the body.
For more than a decade, we’ve known that flushing unused medications
down the drain or toilet is bad for wildlife and the environment. Wastewater
treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals, so drugs
that are flushed away can end up in our lakes, rivers, streams and other
waterways, including San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, in many communities
there are few places that will take unused medication for safe disposal.
As part of its commitment to a healthy community, Washington Hospital Healthcare
System has made it easier for local residents to help keep drugs out of
our water supply. Through a partnership with the Union Sanitary District,
the System has provided Tri-City area residents with a convenient, safe
and environmentally sound option for disposing of old medications. The
service is free to residents.
“We are very passionate about keeping pharmaceuticals out of the
water supply,” said Paul Kelley, Director of Washington Hospital’s
Biomedical Engineering, the Green initiative and Asset Redeployment. “Since
2008, with the enthusiastic support of Hospital leadership, we’ve
been helping our community dispose of medications properly.”
Washington Hospital has five permanent drop-off sites located throughout
- Washington Hospital, Main Lobby, 2000 Mowry Avenue, Fremont
- Washington Hospital Community Health Resource Library, 2500 Mowry Avenue
(Washington West), Fremont
- Washington Township Medical Foundation (WTMF) at Nakamura Clinic, 33077
Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
- WTMF at Newark, 6236 Thornton Avenue, Newark
- WTMF at Warm Springs, 46690 Mohave Drive, Fremont
When dropping off unused medication, follow these guidelines: If you drop
off pills or capsules, take them out of the container and leave the medication
in the drop-off receptacle. Washington Hospital cannot be responsible
for patient information on the bottle. You can recycle the empty containers
at home as you normally do with glass or plastic. If you have unused cough
medicines, creams or other liquids, leave them in their containers when
you drop them off.
Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s Unused Medication Drop-Off
program collected more than 400 pounds of medication each month in 2014.
Since the program began over six years ago, it has collected over 13,000
pounds of unused medication.
Safe disposal of dropped-off medication is paid for by the Union Sanitary
District, an independent special district that provides wastewater collection,
treatment and disposal services to residents and businesses in the cities
of Fremont, Newark and Union City. Collected medications are picked up
by a service hired to haul the waste away for incineration.
Even trace amounts can be harmful
As chemical analysis technology has improved, scientists have been able
to detect trace amount of pharmaceuticals in our oceans, lakes and waterways.
Studies show exposure to even low levels of drugs affects fish and other
aquatic species by interfering with their growth and reproduction.
The U.S. Geological Survey has been testing the water in 139 streams in
30 states since 2002. It has found that 80 percent contained measurable
concentrations of prescription and non-prescription drugs, steroids and
reproductive hormones. An Associated Press investigation revealed Americans
are flushing away more than 250 million pounds of pills each year.
For more information about Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s
Unused Medication Drop-Off program or its Green Initiative, go to www.whhs.com/green.
For more information about the environmental impact of flushing medications
or for facts about recycling, visit www.earth911.org or www.nodrugsdownthedrain.org.