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Source: Newsday

North Hempstead sets drop-off program for medications

BY CHRISTINA HERNANDEZ

Posted: June 4, 2009
Originally Published: June 3, 2009

Spurred by national concerns about improper disposal of household medications, the Town of North Hempstead will establish a drop-off program this weekend for residents' expired and unwanted drugs.

Officials say the program - meant to keep unused medications from being abused or ending up in drinking water and leaching into the ground - is the first for a Long Island town.

"We're not supposed to flush them down the toilet," Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman said Wednesday. "We are supposed to incinerate them."

Experts say traces of drugs have been found in water supplies across the country; limited research makes it difficult to estimate local impact. North Hempstead officials say their program is meant as an education tool and preventive step.

"We really need the other towns to follow suit," Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said in an interview. "The solution has to be a local one."

In April, New York Sea Grant - a partnership of SUNY, Cornell University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - and other groups sponsored a drug collection at the Setauket Firehouse that yielded more than 88,000 pills, said Barbara Branca of New York Sea Grant.

Just how much of the drugs found in water come from flushing unused medications isn't clear, said Bruce Brownawell, an environmental chemist and an associate professor at Stony Brook University, and the effectiveness of drop-off programs has not been studied.

But, he said, preventive measures are usually worthwhile. "Any time it makes people think about the environment, I think it's a good thing," Brownawell said.

Pharmaceuticals are being added to North Hempstead's Stop Throwing Out Pollutants program, where items such as paint cans and batteries are collected four times a year. The next event is 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at 802 West Shore Rd., Port Washington.

Because the town is adding to an existing program, Kaiman said the cost of the pharmaceutical drop-off is "nominal."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that, if such a collection program is not an option, residents should mix the drugs with another garbage-bound substance such as coffee grounds, seal the mixture in a bag and throw it away.