Target: Environmental Protection Agency
Goal: Prohibit medical facilities and pharmaceutical companies from dumping medical waste into U.S. water supplies
Every year in the U.S., hospitals and medical facilities flush millions of pounds of drugs and chemicals down the drain and into our drinking water. While the impact of these pharmaceuticals on human health is unknown and difficult to study, they have been shown to damage the ecosystem. Even at extremely diluted levels, pharmaceuticals negatively impact fish, frogs and other animals that inhabit our lakes and streams. Some states have taken measures to ban such heavy dumping, including New York and New Jersey, but elsewhere the problem continues unabated. Ask the EPA to set restrictions on medical facilities that would stop them from dumping pharmaceuticals into the U.S.’ water supply.
A significant portion of the pharmaceuticals making it into our water comes from regular consumers. At home, people often flush expired prescriptions down the drain or simply excrete the medicines in waste. Many cities and local administrations have set up programs to dispose of old medicines properly, much like those established for the disposal of batteries. However, while the FDA has published guidelines on how to properly dispose of medicines, not enough has been done to inform the public.
Although pharmaceuticals are not the greatest contributor to pollution of our water, the drugs can be extremely potent in even diluted doses. Antibiotics, birth control pills and anti-depressants are becoming regular fixtures in our water supply. As many of these medicines mimic human hormones, they can act as powerful endocrine disruptors. They are known to produce intersex, or hermaphroditic, fish and are even suspected to contribute to early onset puberty in young girls. Antibiotics in water may be creating “superbugs,” those bacteria that have developed resistance to some of our most powerful medicines.
A few of the chemicals abundant in our water, such as caffeine excreted in our waste, are best removed from the supply during filtration. Others, however, are trickier to remove and would be extremely expensive to do so. The surest way to minimize their presence is to stop them from entering our water in the first place. While consumers can do their part, placing regulations– ensuring guidelines for proper disposal are followed and imposing fines and prosecution for violations– on the major contributors would do the most good for the littlest effort. Thousands of hospitals flush millions of pounds of drugs down the drain every year. Thus far, they have been politely asked to refrain, but facilities see no plausible alternatives to dumping. The U.S. government should set up medical waste depots or at least encourage private contractors to build them. Banning the disposal of pharmaceutical waste into our water supply is the first step.
Implore the EPA to protect American water supplies by establishing measures against the improper dumping of medical waste.
Dear Environmental Protection Agency,
I am concerned about the contamination of American drinking water with pharmaceutical waste. Hospitals routinely flush millions of pounds of unused medicine down the drain and into our lakes and streams. These drugs then damage the health of wildlife and negatively impact the ecosystem. While this alone is enough to spur action to stop dumping, I also worry about the harm done to human health. Even at extremely diluted amounts, many of these drugs– from anti-depressants and birth control pills to antibiotics – can disrupt the human endocrine system. Children are especially vulnerable.
Luckily, this problem should be easy to address. While consumers need to be informed on how to properly disposal of old medicines, hospitals are contributing the most waste. Setting restrictions on the dumping of unused pharmaceuticals into water is practical and easy to implement. The EPA needs to ensure that facilities are following established guidelines. Punishments and fines should be enacted for those who violate regulations. This would be an important step in removing harmful drugs and chemicals from our water. Please prohibit medical facilities’ dumping of pharmaceuticals into the U.S.’ water supply.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Penn State via Flickr