DEC Holds Annual Long Island Pharmaceutical Take Back Day for Healthcare Facilities

DEC collected 660 pounds of pharmaceutical medications during the annual DEC Long Island Pharmaceutical Take Back, Region 1 Director Carrie Meek Gallagher announced today.

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DEC law enforcement collects and destroys 660 pounds of unused and expired medications.

Photo by: Elliott McFadden, via Free Images.

Long Island, NY - February 14, 2017 - The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) collected 660 pounds of pharmaceutical medications during the annual DEC Long Island Pharmaceutical Take Back, Region 1 Director Carrie Meek Gallagher announced today. A total of twenty-four long-term healthcare facilities throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in the program, which collects and responsibly destroys unused or expired pharmaceuticals.

"Health care facilities such as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities normally have little choice but to "flush" unused medications," said Director Gallagher. "DEC will continue our efforts to reduce medications entering our waterways and we are grateful to all the facilities who chose to enthusiastically participate in this year's take-back day."

In 2015, DEC received funding through a State Legislative Appropriation for $150,000 to collect unused and unwanted pharmaceuticals from medical facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The program is designed to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that are "flushed" by facilities and can end up in Long Island's groundwater, bays and estuaries. Pharmaceuticals have been detected at low levels in New York State waterways and Long Island's shallow groundwater.

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said, "Providing free, easy, convenient and safe disposal of pharmaceutical drug programs protects our water and public health. The old practice of flushing unused drugs must be stopped! We applaud DEC for continuing their program to safely collect unused and expired drugs from long term care facilities which are potentially significant contributors to pharmaceutical contamination in ground and surface waters. We encourage all long-term care facilities to participate in this annual program."

Twenty-four facilities made up primarily of nursing, extended care and rehabilitation centers, agreed to participate in this year's collection. Each facility stored unused and expired medications until DEC Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) visited them at their facility on Monday, February 13. The stored medications were brought to the Covanta Waste-to-Energy Plant in Hempstead, which volunteered its services to incinerate the products.

"Covanta is very proud to provide a program for the safe disposal of drugs allowing us to both assist in the prevention of drug abuse and in the protection of our waters," said John G. Waffenschmidt, Covanta Vice President of Environmental Science and Community Affairs. "We are also happy to join with the Department of Environmental Conservation and Citizens Campaign for the Environment in their important work to end the practice of flushing drugs by residents and institutions. Our Energy-from-Waste facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art combustion controls and air pollution control equipment to ensure the secure destruction of these drugs in an environmentally sound manner."

Covanta's Energy-from-Waste facilities in Westbury, East Northport, West Babylon and Ronkonkoma serve the municipal solid waste management needs of thousands of Long Island households and businesses, converting nearly 5,000 tons of post-recycled municipal solid waste each day into clean energy to power over 100,000 homes. The facilities also recycle 50,000 tons of metal annually.

Prescription drug take back efforts began in the last few years. Prior to these initiatives the normal disposal practice was to flush unwanted drugs. With technological advances in analytical techniques, it is now possible to detect very low levels of drugs in surface water and groundwater. Some drugs pass largely unaltered through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and other waterways. Drugs from heath care facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities and farms can also find their way into the water.

Flushed medications have been found in New York lakes, rivers and streams which can negatively affect the waterways. 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 percent of rivers and streams tested. Medications adversely affect fish and other aquatic wildlife and increase the development of drug-resistant bacteria.