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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, veterinarians' offices, and farms can reach the water. There is also a significant health risk associated with the abuse of prescription drugs that remain in the home. 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 in 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. Numerous studies since then confirm this growing problem.
  • Fish and other aquatic wildlife are being adversely affected
    Studies have shown that male fish have been feminized (produced eggs) when exposed to hormones (e.g. estrogen from 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

Statewide Actions

DEC's Report on Pharmaceutical Stewardship (PDF) - DEC conducted a comprehensive assessment of existing programs in New York and across the country, and held stakeholder meetings about the proper management and disposal of unused, expired, and unwanted pharmaceuticals. Recommendations include establishing an independent pharmaceutical stewardship organization to provide oversight of a statewide program funded by pharmaceutical manufacturers rather than consumers.

Collection Efforts

Additional Resources

Commissioner's Policy (CP) 66 - Proper Pharmaceutical Disposal

Regulated Medical Waste

Household Sharps-Safe Disposal

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:

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