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Source: Newsday

State environmental officers dispose of old meds at Nassau nursing homes to keep drugs out of water supply


Posted: February 11, 2015
Originally Published: February 10, 2015

A nursing home is a far cry from the usual haunts for a state Environmental Conservation police officer.

But a trio of the officers, decked out in green uniforms, Tuesday visited seven Nassau County nursing facilities to pick up boxes of expired medications as part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's new program to keep pharmaceuticals out of Long Island's environment.

"The drug pickup prevents people from flushing it," said Lt. Thomas Gadomski, supervising Environmental Conservation police officer in the DEC's Division of Law Enforcement on Long Island. "If we can do something to hinder the degradation of the water system, then we're going to do it."

While the previous wisdom on disposing unwanted drugs was to flush the medication down the toilet, the drugs end up in groundwater and surface water, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which successfully pushed for the DEC's new program to be included in last year's state budget.

"If they're hooked up with a cesspool, it goes into the groundwater," Esposito said. "If it goes into a sewage-treatment plant, that discharges into the marine environment."

In 2013, Esposito's group did a study of long-term care facilities and nursing homes, finding that more than half of them still flushed medications down the toilet, leading to trace amounts of the drugs being found in the region's water supply.

Yesterday, Gadomski and his team picked up dozens of boxes of unwanted drugs, including controlled substances, from the nursing facilities.

Their first stop -- the Parkview Care and Rehabilitation Center in Massapequa -- yielded one large cardboard box from Margareth Germain, the director of nursing.

"That's a good thing you're doing for us," Germain said as she handed over the box.

At the Park Avenue Extended Care Facility in Long Beach, Teresa Pocchia noted the facility -- like many others -- used to flush the drugs. "It is a very necessary service," Pocchia said of the DEC's work.

By the end of the afternoon, the DEC's sport utility vehicle was filled with boxes of drugs destined for disposal, free of charge, at the Covanta Hempstead waste-to-energy incinerator in Westbury. The boxes went into the incinerator's feed hopper, to be burned at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We're getting rid of the product so it doesn't go into the water table, and we're getting some energy out of it," Gadomski said.