Department of Environmental Conservation

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Drugs in New York's Waters

How drugs get into our waters and why DEC is concerned

Until recently, consumers have been told to flush unwanted drugs. With technological advances and research, low levels of drugs are being found in our surface waters. We know that some drugs pass largely unaltered through our wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and other waters. Drugs from heath care facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities and farms can also find their way into the water. Although the health and environmental consequences are still being studied, we do know that:

Photograph of a brook trout at the surface of the water
Research has shown that continuous
exposure to low levels of medications
has altered the behavior and physiology
of fish and aquatic life.
  • Flushed medications have been found our lakes, rivers and streams
    A nationwide study done in 1999 and 2000 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found low levels of drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids in 80% of the rivers and streams tested.
  • Fish and other aquatic wildlife are being adversely affected
    Studies have shown that male fish have been feminized (produced eggs) when exposed to hormones (birth control pills). Other drugs, such as anti-depressants and beta-blockers, reduce fertility or affect spawning in certain aquatic organisms. Even expired medications can cause these effects.
  • Drug-resistant bacteria might develop
    Long-term exposure to low levels of antibiotics might result in the evolution of, or selection for, drug-resistant microbes and bacteria.

How To Dispose Of Drugs Safely:

Additional Resources

(see right column links)

Press release: DEC Tells New Yorkers: Don't Flush Medications
Pharmaceuticals in Our Waters: An Emerging Concern
Pharmaceuticals as Emerging Contaminants: A Rationale for Reduction in New York State's Waters
A New Prescription: Do not flush your unused drugs

United States Geological Survey
Emerging Contaminants in the Environment
Pharmaceuticals, Hormones and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams

United States Environmental Protection Agency
Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Pollutants

Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation
A list of strategies and additional resources to reduce medical waste for consumers, health care practitioners, pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurers. See "Reduce medical waste" in the Links Leaving DEC's Website at right.

The Drug Take-Back Network
A centralized source of information on drug take-back programs and disposal issues across the country. Offers help to consumers looking for safe ways to dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals

More about Drugs in New York's Waters: