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Prisons Flush Drugs, Contaminate Water Supply

Each year, tons of unused pharmaceuticals are flushed by America’s state and federal prisons, hospitals and long-term care facilities, contaminating the nation’s drinking water, according to an Associated Press (AP) investigation.

“We flush it and flush it and flush it – until we can’t see any more pills,” admits nurse Linda Peterson, who works at a state prison in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota. She reported that the prison hospital unit which serves prisoners statewide disposes of up to 12,000 pills annually. Heart medications, antibiotics, tightly regulated narcotics and other drugs which cannot be thrown in the trash are flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink.

Noting the presence of a nursing home, hospital and another prison nearby, Peterson asks, “So, what are all these facilities doing, if we’re throwing away about 700 to 1,000 pills a month?”

While few facilities record the amount of their pharmaceutical waste, a sampling by the AP suggests a projected annual national estimate of at least 250 million pounds.

“Obviously, we’re flushing the medications, which is not ideal,” acknowledges Mary Ludlow, who works for a South Carolina pharmacy which services long-term care facilities. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Water Administrator Ben Grumbles, agrees, stating the obvious: “Treating the toilet as a trash can isn’t a good option.”

Why? Because the practice has resulted in a constant presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the nation’s drinking water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans. Researchers are finding that such residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. More alarming is the fact that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs, according to researchers.

Some flushed pharmaceutical waste is laden with both germs and antibiotics, notes microbiologist Thomas Schwartz at Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany. Scientific studies have linked drug dumping in America and Europe to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations which may promote cancers.

“Something should be done now,” declares pharmacist Boris Jolibois, a French researcher at Compiegne Medical Center. “It’s just common sense.” Yet, while the EPA classifies pharmaceuticals as “major pollutants of concern,” and is considering imposing national standards on how much drug waste may be released into the waterways, Grumbles acknowledges that a decision is not imminent.

Drugs the EPA classifies as hazardous cost up to $2 a pound to incinerate. “When you can flush it down the toilet for free, why would you want to pay, unless there is some significant penalty?” asked Tom Clark, an executive at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.
Why, indeed.

Source: Associated Press

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