New York Settles with Hospitals Over Drug Flushing

The issue of <"">pharmaceuticals in America’s water supplies has been making news in recent months and has been discussed on a variety of occasions on this blog. Now, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo just said that a settlement has been reached between five health care facilities known to have flushed “pharmaceutical waste” into watersheds in the state, reported the Associated Press (AP).

The Croton, Catskill, and Delaware watersheds comprise some 2,000 square miles, said the AP, noting that the watersheds drain into reservoirs and lakes that supply drinking water to New York City—eight million people—and residents in other counties in northern New York State. The practice affects about half the residents in NY State—some 19.4 million—pointed out the AP.

The agreement announced by Cuomo involved two hospitals and three nursing homes that tossed “painkillers, antibiotics, antidepressants, hormones, and other pharmaceuticals” down toilets and sinks, said the AP. The drugs made their way into the watershed, thus endangering millions of residents’ drinking water, added the AP.

The five facilities involved in the agreement will give medications requiring disposal to waste management facilities, said Cuomo, according to the AP. Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, O’Connor Hospital, Countryside Care Center, Margaretville Memorial Hospital, and Mountainside Residential Care Center were the five facilities involved in the settlement, said the AP. Each location was fined from $3,500 and $12,000 for its violations; 10 other facilities are being probed, added the AP.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reorganized its waste drugs listing for those medications that should be disposed by flushing in the toilet and is planning a program in which consumers can return unused medications, said the AP previously. Also, the National Toxicology Program is researching the impact of medications at “low environmental levels” on human health, explained the AP.

Most drug residues end up in municipal water supplies through normal bodily functions; however, some end up there because people often dispose of unused medications by flushing them down the toilet. According to a previous article on, most government organizations now recommend that consumers dispose of old medications in the trash, rather than the toilet. In 2007, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the EPA, and the Department of Health and Human Services issued the first set of federal guidelines for proper disposal of prescription drugs. According to, these guidelines recommend taking unused medications out of their original packaging, mixing them with other items in the trash that are “undesirable” (for instance, used cat litter), placing the concoction in a zip loc bag, and throwing it in the trash.

Cuomo’s investigation is believed to have been spurred by earlier AP. Said the AP, the attorney general announced that dumping of medications into New York’s drinking water poses “an emerging threat,” and that the EPA has revealed medications as “contaminants of emerging concern,” quoted the AP

The AP previously reported that experts worry about the aggregate damage these drugs—even in small doses—could do to the human body over time and on a daily basis, especially given that there exist sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women and that the accumulation could have impacts on the medications that various populations take.

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