Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Drugs in New York's Waters

How Drugs Enter NYS 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 reach 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

NYS DEC
Regulated Medical Waste

Household Sharps-Safe Disposal

Background

Pharmaceuticals in Our Waters: An Emerging Concern (PDF, 21 KB)

Pharmaceuticals as Emerging Contaminants: A Rationale for Reduction in New York State's Waters (PDF, 110 KB)

A New Prescription: Do not flush your unused drugs (PDF, 379 KB)

USGS Pharmaceuticals from Manufacturing Facilities (Link leaves DEC website)

USGS Emerging Contaminants in the Environment (Link leaves DEC website)

USGS Study on Pharmaceuticals in US Streams (Link leaves DEC website)


More about Drugs in New York's Waters:

  • PDF Help
  • For help with PDFs on this page, please call 518-402-8179.
  • Contact for this Page
  • Division of Water
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-3500
    518-402-8179
    Send us an email
  • This Page Covers
  • Page applies to all NYS regions