Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal

Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste in our state’s wastewater stream has caused many treatment issues over the years. Now, research has shown the long-term impacts that pharmaceutical by-products can have on human health, animal well-being and the entire ecosystem. To ensure safe, potable drinking water, we must raise awareness about the consequences associated with dumping pharmaceutical waste in what becomes our drinking water supply.

The Groundwater Foundation has provided relevant information on its website about pharmaceutical and personal care products in drinking water supplies. Many people may not even realize that the way they are disposing of unwanted drugs can harm our water sources. Below is information provided by The Groundwater Foundation explaining what qualifies as pharmaceutical and personal care products, how they can pollute the environment and what the public can do to help.

Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water Supplies

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are a diverse group of chemicals, including all human and veterinary drugs; dietary supplements; other consumer products, including fragrances, topical agents such as cosmetics and sunscreens, laundry and cleaning products; and all the “inert” ingredients that are part of these products.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are introduced to the environment as pollutants in a variety of ways, including excretion by humans and domestic animals; intentional disposal of unneeded PPCPs (flushing); bathing or swimming; discharge from municipal sewage systems or private septic systems; leaching from landfills; runoff from confined animal feeding operations; discharge of raw sewage from storm overflow events, cruise ships and some rural homes directly into surface water; accidental discharges to a groundwater recharge area; loss from aquaculture; and spray-drift from antibiotics used on food crops.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey published in 2002 brought attention to PPCPs in water. In a sampling of 139 susceptible streams in 30 states, detectable, yet minute, quantities of PPCPs were found in 80 percent of the streams. The most common pharmaceuticals detected were steroids and nonprescription drugs. Antibiotics, prescription medication, detergents, fire retardants, pesticides and natural and synthetic hormones were also found.

The potential human health risks associated with minute levels of PPCPs in water in general and drinking water in particular is still being determined. Until more is known, there is much the public health and environmental protection community can do to educate the public about the risks and best practices concerning the use and disposal of PPCPs, thus protecting drinking water sources.

Recently, several collection drop-off programs have been established around the state of Kentucky. To find a collection drop-off center close to you, click here. For more information on the disposal of pharmaceutical and personal care products, see the full article from The Groundwater Foundation. For information on how to properly operate a collection program, see DEP’s Guidelines for Household Pharmaceutical Waste Collection Programs.

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