Security Shredding & Storage News

Out of the water, out of harms way

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Across the nation scientists are detecting low concentrations of pharmaceuticals in lakes, streams, drinking water sources and in soils irrigated with reclaimed water, according to the United State Geological Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Over 80% of waterways tested in the US show traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, blood pressure medicine, codeine, and antibiotics, according to the EPA.

A team of national Associated Press (AP) investigators recently released a report on pharmaceuticals in the water. Widespread coverage of the report is drawing public, state and federal attention to the issue. The disconcerting news is raising questions, concerns and solutions.

While some hospitals have Best Management Practices in place, others are looking for strategies to address the potential environmental and health impacts of disposed pharmaceuticals.

Little is certain about the potential health effects pharmaceuticals and their mixtures may have on human and aquatic life and the environment, including drinking water sources. Although, reported concerns to humans include antibiotic resistance and hormone disruption.

Hospital waste is particularly laden with both germs and antibiotics. In wastewater samples taken from sites near hospitals in Europe and the US, scientists linked disposed pharmaceuticals to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers, according to scientific studies reviewed by the AP.

Pharmaceuticals enter the sewer system through excretion of un-metabolized medicines and disposal of medicines down the drain. Unfortunately, wastewater treatment plants currently cannot remove medicine from wastewater.

Several decades ago, institutionally generated drug waste was routinely throw in the trash and burned in hospital or city incinerators. That practice ended with the national campaign against air pollution. In recent years healthcare facilities have preferred drain over dumpster disposal, because it is the least expensive way to ensure that a drug is destroyed.

One healthcare facility that oversees five hospitals in Oregon is working to optimize its method of handling pharmaceuticals, due to environmental concerns about the water. With the help of a private consulting company progress is underway.

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