American hospitals flush tons of drugs down the drain

U.S. hospitals and long-term-care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pharmaceuticals down the drain, pumping contaminants into America’s drinking water, according to an ongoing Associated Press investigation…

One thing is clear: The massive amount of pharmaceuticals being flushed by the health-services industry is aggravating an emerging problem — the common presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in U.S. drinking-water supplies, affecting at least 46 million Americans…

The Environmental Protection Agency told assembled water experts last year that it believes nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities use sewer systems to dispose of most of their unused drugs. A water utility surveyed 45 long-term-care facilities in 2006 and calculated that two-thirds of their unused drugs were scrapped this way, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies…

The EPA is considering whether to impose the first national standard for how much drug waste may be released into waterways by the medical-services industry, but Ben Grumbles, the EPA’s top water administrator, says a decision won’t be made until next year, at the earliest.

It certainly won’t be made until after Bush leaves office.

So far, regulators have done little more than politely ask the medical-care industry to stop pouring drugs into the wastewater system.

Treating the toilet as a trash can isn’t a good option,” says Grumbles.

When I worked in the engineering department of a major American teaching hospital, we all took our turn at oversight of recycling. Wearing hazmat gear, we checked on recyclables being removed as useful from the waste stream – including drugs – which went to a medical incinerator.

Now, beancounters get to make the decisions on safety and the American public gets the garbage.

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