It has long been thought that flushing unused prescription or over-the-counter medications down the toilet was relatively harmless. This is no longer the case. Technology has improved and small amounts of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are now detectable in the nation's water supply. Unfortunately, water treatment facilities are not able to remove these substances from the water and everyone has some exposure. The potential risk to human health is unknown and the issue is being researched.
At present, there are no known human health effects from low-level exposure. However, several areas of concern include a possible cumulative effect of long-term exposure, the possibility that these compounds may react differently from their intended purpose when they are introduced into the environment, and increased resistance to antibiotics. A special scenario such as fetal exposure to low levels of medications that a mother would ordinarily be avoiding requires more investigation.
In addition to antibiotics and steroids, over 100 individual PPCPs have been identified in drinking water as of 2007. Other medications found in water supplies include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, cholesterol drugs, hormones, and medications used to control epilepsy and bipolar disorder. It has been suggested that hormones (endocrine disruptors) have affected the form, reproduction, and sex-ratios of some fish that are exposed to higher concentrations in untreated water.
It makes sense to protect our water supply as much as possible. While drug components excreted by humans and animals cannot be controlled, disposing of unused medication can be. DO NOT FLUSH UNUSED MEDICATION DOWN THE TOILET! The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is hosting a MEDICINE COLLECTION DAY on APRIL 18, 2009 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at Miller Park. They will accept prescription and over the counter medication, ointments, sprays, inhalers, creams, vials, and pet medications. They will not accept illegal drugs, biohazardous material, needles/sharps, personal care products (shampoo, soaps, lotions, sunscreens, etc.), or household hazardous waste (paint, pesticides, oil, gas). Visit the MMSD website at http://www.mmsd.com if you do not live in Milwaukee County for additional collection sites.
If you cannot take advanatage of the Medicine Collection Day, the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests disposing of unused meds by removing them from their original containers and mixing them with an undesirable substance (cat litter or coffee grounds) or dissolving them in a small amount of water. Place this mixture in a disposable container with a lid or a sealable bag. Remove any identifying information from the medicine bottle. Place all items in another bag and place in the trash.
Disposing of medicine in the toilet is a form of water pollution and should be avoided. This is just one small step people can take to help ensure a clean, safe water supply for everyone. For more information on PPCPs in water, visit these websites: