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Source: Long Island Press

Questions Arise Over Suffolk Pill Dumping Bill

BY TIMOTHY BOLGER

Posted: March 15, 2011
Originally Published: March 10, 2011

A Suffolk County legislator has proposed legislation that would require medical facilities to be more accountable for prescription drug disposal, but questions have arisen about how effect such a law would be.

A Suffolk County legislator has proposed legislation that would require medical facilities to be more accountable for prescription drug disposal, but questions have arisen about how effect such a law would be.

Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), the majority leader, said that the bill aims to prevent medication from improper disposal and potentially leaching into underground drinking water reserves. It would require hospitals and other medical facilities to file environmentally friendly medicine disposal plans with the county health department. But critics charge such a law would be redundant.

“Being located on an island, Suffolk has to rely on the outside world for the vast majority of resources,” Copper said in a statement following a public hearing on the bill Tuesday. “One of the very few cheap and plentiful local commodities we do have control over is our drinking water.”

Local health industry experts said there are already such measures.

“There are specific processes in place,” said Janine Logan, spokeswoman for the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, pointing to state and federal rules for disposal of pharmaceuticals and other medical waste. “It would seem there isn’t a need for additional guidelines.”

Studies have found trace amounts of medications from sex hormones to chemotherapy drugs, antidepressants to tranquilizers in 80 percent of U.S. streams and ¼ of groundwater supplies, including aquifers beneath Nassau and Suffolk counties. Concerns have been raised over the long-term impact on human health and wildlife.

The chemicals find their way into drinking water when the public flushes medication down the toilet or sink drain and winds up in sewage treatment plants that are not designed to filter out such chemicals.

But the bill would not help stem the flow of medication that passes through people before being flushed down the toilet and winding up in sewage plants, which discharge treated wastewater into local waterways.

Cooper hopes that bill will go for a vote before the legislature March 22.

Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconet), the minority leader, said the caucus has not yet formed an opinion on the bill.

“I would want to look at what’s being done to utilize or enforce what’s in place at this point,” he said.

In the meantime, local environmentalists said they plan to start issuing annual report cards grading hospitals on how well they dispose of unused medication.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, put it this way: “I don’t know a single person who wants to add Morphine and Amoxicillin to their morning coffee, or to their baby formula.”