Department of Environmental Conservation

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What DEC and Others are Doing to Reduce Drugs in Surface Waters

medicine bottles
DEC is working to develop a safe,
legal and environmentally sound way
to dispose of unwanted medications

Reducing the amounts of drugs that make their way to New York's surface waters is a complicated task that requires collaboration among state and federal agencies, institutions, drug manufacturers, pharmacies and individuals. DEC is working with all stakeholders to prevent drugs from entering the wastewater stream and ensure that they are disposed of in a safe, legal and environmentally sound manner.

DEC's Plan of Action

  • Pro-actively protecting the environment
    DEC has established a Pharmaceuticals Work Group including representatives from the Water, Solid and Hazardous Materials, Pollution Prevention, Public Affairs programs, the Policy Office and the NYS Department of Health (DOH). See: "Pharmaceuticals as Emerging Contaminants: A Rationale for Reduction in New York State's Waters" (PDF, 96.6 Kb)
    In May of 2008, DEC and DOH hosted a roundtable with stakeholders to discuss management options for unwanted drugs. To view the roundtable proceedings see "Important Links" at right.
  • Combining efforts with other states
    DEC has joined the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission's pharmaceuticals working group to foster interstate communication on the issue of pharmaceuticals in the environment.
  • Continuing to study the environmental impacts
    DEC is combining research efforts with the US EPA, United States Geologic Survey (USGS), the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and the NYS Department of Health. DEC has been collaborating with the USGS since 2003 on a study of trace contaminants (including pharmaceuticals) in the New York City watershed.
  • Participating in a national system for the management of unwanted pharmaceuticals
    DEC has joined with the Product Stewardship Institute's pharmaceuticals initiative and will be working with other states and stakeholders to develop a viable system for the return of unwanted drugs.
  • Beginning a public education and awareness campaign
    DEC developed educational materials to be posted in pharmacies to inform the public about the danger of flushing unwanted drugs and on the proper disposal methods. DEC will also keep the public up to date on the environmental and human health impacts of drugs in surface waters. "Don't Flush You Drugs" campaign press release

What Other States, Federal Agencies and Organizations Are Doing

Statewide Programs:

(See links in the right side column for additional information)
-- The Unused Pharmaceutical Disposal Program sponsored by Maine's Drug Enforcement Agency features one day collection events and a statewide drug mail-back campaign. They are also drafting legislation to encourage proper disposal.

Massachusetts -- The Department of Environmental Protection has a comprehensive program to study and monitor pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts waters. They are working with related agencies and stakeholders to reduce the amount of medications going to wastewater treatment plants, and to keep the public informed about the issues.

National Programs:

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water is studying these emerging contaminants (see link to PDF at right), identifying gaps in scientific information, keeping the public up to date on the issues and can take regulatory action where appropriate.

The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) is a non-profit organization that works with federal, state and local governments, environmental groups, retailers and manufacturers to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer products. PSI's "pharmaceuticals initiative" is developing best management practices for the collection and disposal of waste pharmaceuticals.

For further information on federal agency activities:

United States Geological Survey (USGS):
Emerging Contaminants in the Environment
Pharmaceuticals, Hormones and other Organic Contaminants in U.S. Streams

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
Pharmaceuticals and Personal care Products

Other Programs and Initiatives:

  • Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) represents ten states including Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont continues to sponsor numerous pharmaceutical take back events.
  • British Columbia's Post-Consumer Pharmaceutical Stewardship Association established a program for residents to return unwanted drugs to pharmacies. Versions of this program have been adopted by six other Canadian provinces.