The Hazards of Pharmaceuticals in the Home and the Environment

May 15, 2008 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

Several stories have recently appeared in the news about the effects of pharmaceuticals in the water supply. The reported negative impacts include hormone disruption in fish, raising questions about potential impacts on human health. There are concerns about the effects of long term human consumption of these and other chemicals. Household pharmaceuticals can get into the water supply because conventional waste and drinking water treatment does not effectively eliminate most of the pharmaceutical compounds such as endocrine disruptor compounds found in oral contraceptives. Some of these chemicals enter the wastewater system when they are excreted by people who take these drugs. In other cases, chemicals may get into the wastewater when people flush old or unwanted medicine down the toilet. Flushing has been recommended in the past as a way to safely dispose of pharmaceuticals. However, because treated wastewater is released into surface water bodies, chemicals remaining in the effluent may affect wildlife or if the water eventually enters drinking water systems, humans may be affected. Below are two recent examples of how EHSC researchers and community outreach agencies are focusing on studying and eliminating pharmaceuticals in our environment.

It is important to safely dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals to avoid accidental poisonings by children or others. Flushing them down the toilet is no longer a recommended method of disposal. People are discouraged from simply throwing unwanted medicines in the trash since children might pull them out of the trash, or once in a landfill, these chemicals may eventually seep out in drainage water. The only guidance issued to date by a federal agency regarding the disposal of medications (by consumers and other end users) is the guidance issued in February of 2007 by the White House Office of National Drug Center Policy. However several states and localities have developed their own approaches to this issue. In Washington State, a coalition of local and state governments, and non-profit organizations, developed a pilot program in which pharmacies took back unwanted medicine, ( Legislation that would have implemented this program on a statewide basis was introduced in 2007 but has not been passed. The New York State Legislature is also considering a bill (A. 840) that would regulate the collection and disposal of both prescription and over-the-counter drugs by manufacturers of such drugs. Until such a program is instituted, community collection days may be the safest option (See ‘What Can I Do?’).

  • In March 2008, 3rd year Toxicology graduate student Fanny Casado presented a talk called “Endocrine Disruptors with estrogenic activity: Promises and Challenges.” The presentation discussed the current widespread use of estrogen-based hormonal therapies that has opened opportunities to do epidemiological studies of the risks and benefits. Endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) are defined as chemicals, such as those found in oral contraceptives, that can alter the physiology of endocrine or hormone systems in wild-life and humans. When these chemicals were first introduced, disruptive effects were not fully appreciated. Several different lines of research have elucidated some of the mechanisms of action of these compounds, specifically the ones with estrogenic activity, giving rise to guidelines and restrictions on their use. Despite numerous investigations using in vivo models that provide information about exposure, the relationship between human diseases of the endocrine system and exposure to environmental EDCs is poorly understood.
  • Action for a Better Community (ABC), an EHSC Community Advisory Board member, teamed up with the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison Control Center, the City of Rochester, Monroe County Department of Environmental Services, and the Center for Environmental Information to take part in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Earth Day Challenge on April 19th. This event provided opportunities for people to safely dispose of unwanted medicines as well as electronic waste. Over 55,000 doses of unwanted medicine were collected from 66 people at this event. On June 7th, there will be a free Unwanted Pharmaceuticals Collection from 8:00am-1:00pm at the City of Rochester Water Bureau, 10 Felix Street. For more information about this collection, contact Ted Murray at ABC, 325-5116.

What Can I Do? Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs

Provided by the Center for Environmental Information

  • DO NOT FLUSH prescription drugs down the toilet.
  • If this is not possible, follow these instructions:
  • Remove medicines from their original container.
  • Take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  • Make the medicines unusable (for example, mix the prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter).
  • Put them in a sealable bag or other impermeable, non-descript containers and place in the trash.
  • Storing expired and unwanted medications in your home increases the risk of accidental poisoning.
  • Help protect your safety by disposing of medicines promptly.
  • Got questions? Call the Poison Control Center at 1 800 222-1222

Entry filed under: Environmental Health, Events, In the News.

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