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Five Healthcare Facilities Agree to Stop Dumping Drug Waste in Watershed

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 15, 2010

Five healthcare facilities in two counties near New York City have agreed to immediately stop dumping pharmaceutical waste into the city's watershed, the New York Attorney General's Office announced this week.

The five Putnam and Delaware county facilities named in the settlements are: O'Connor Hospital in Delhi; Margaretville Memorial Hospital; Mountainside Residential Care Center in Margaretville; Countryside Care Center in Delhi; and Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Holmes.

Prosecutors say all five facilities cooperated with the investigation, and that the resulting agreements are the first to require the sources of pharmaceutical waste releases to end the risky disposal practice.

The five facilities are located within the New York City Watershed, an almost 2,000 square-mile area that drains into reservoirs and lakes providing drinking water to 8 million New York City residents and 1 million people in Westchester, Putnam, Ulster, and Orange counties.

Flushing waste pharmaceuticals allows for the release of painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, hormones, and other waste drugs into the watershed—the drinking water supply for almost half the state's residents. State officials say that so far, only trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have been found in the New York City drinking water supply.

"Changing disposal practices begins with educating our healthcare workers, providing safe disposal options and enforcement of the law," said Adrienne Esposito, executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which lauded the agreement. "When we fix our morning coffee, it should include sugar and milk, not Ritalin and antibiotics."

The settlements require that each of the healthcare facilities send their pharmaceutical waste to appropriate waste facilities. Each facility is required to take other specific steps to ensure safe disposal of pharmaceutical and other wastes in the watershed, including:

  • Ensuring that waste management practices, including those related to pharmaceutical waste, comply fully with all New York and federal laws and regulations related to waste management and clean water.
  • Paying civil penalties for past violations of law and costs incurred by the state in the investigation.
  • Implementing pharmaceutical "take back programs" to ensure the collection and proper disposal of pharmaceutical wastes generated by area households.

The AG's investigation found that the facilities' handling of pharmaceutical wastes and other wastes violated various provisions of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the federal Clean Water Act, according to the AG.


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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