For more than a decade, it’s been known that flushing unused medications
down the drain or toilet is bad for the environment. Wastewater treatment
plants are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals, so drugs that are flushed
away can end up in the water system, including San Francisco Bay.
Studies show exposure to even low levels of drugs affects fish and other
aquatic species by interfering with their growth and reproduction. Now,
with improved chemical analysis technology, we can detect even trace amounts
of pharmaceuticals that present potential impacts to fish and wildlife
in our rivers, bays and oceans.
As early as 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey tested the water in 139 streams
in 30 states. It found that 80 percent contained measurable concentrations
of prescription and non-prescription drugs, steroids and reproductive
hormones. Later, an Associated Press investigation revealed Americans
were flushing away more than 250 million pounds of pills each year.
Since that time, experts have strongly advised that, due to the potential
environmental consequences, you should not dispose of unused medication
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.
As part of its commitment to a healthy community, Washington Hospital Healthcare
System has partnered with the Union Sanitary District to make it easier
for local residents to follow this imperative. The System has five drop-off
sites located throughout the community, giving people a free, convenient,
safe and environmentally sound way to dispose of old medications.
“We are very passionate about this issue,” said Paul Kelley,
manager of Washington Hospital’s Biomedical Engineering Department
and head of its successful Green Team. “Since 2008, with the enthusiastic
support of our CEO Nancy Farber, we’ve been helping people dispose
of medications properly.”
Permanent drop-off sites are available at the following locations:
- 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
If you are dropping off unused pills or capsules, take them out of the
container and leave the medication in the drop-off receptacle. The System
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.
Recently, at a Safe Drug Disposal Rally held by the Alameda County MEDS
Coalition, Washington Hospital Healthcare System received commendations
from County Supervisor Nate Miley, recognizing five of its drop-off sites.
Washington Hospital and its Community Health Resource Library, as well
as three of the WTMF locations, were praised for contributing to the safety
of children, families and the environment. At the rally, Washington Hospital
was also recognized for educating the general public about the potential
for abuse of medications.
The second largest service of its type in Alameda County, Washington Hospital
Healthcare System’s Unused Medication Drop-Off program collects
more than 200 pounds of medication each month, or a total of 2,500 pounds
annually. Since the program began more than five years ago, it has collected
10,311 pounds of unused medication. Collected medications are picked up
by a service hired by Union Sanitary District to haul the waste away for
For more information about Washington Hospital Healthcare System’s
Unused Medication Drop-Off program or its Green Initiative, go to www.whhs.com/community/unused-medication-drop-off
and www.whhs.com/green. For more information about the environmental impact
of flushing medications or for facts about recycling, visit www.earth911.org