Dangers of Throwing Medication in the Trash or Down the Drain
Prescription and over-the-counter medications are an important part of our lives. But what about prescriptions that have expired or were never taken? What about those little red pills you think you bought for a cold last year, but you’re not sure what they’re for? How do you get rid of those? Your first instinct might be to flush them down the toilet or throw them in the garbage. That would not be right!
Although modern wastewater treatment plants are efficient at removing many contaminants from the wastewater stream, no plant is able to remove them all. The EPA warns that sewage treatment systems are not specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals, and those drugs can pass intact into waterways, lakes and even aquifers when people dispose of unused medicines by flushing them down the toilet. Further, discarded pharmaceuticals often end up at dumps and landfills, posing a threat to underlying groundwater.
Traces of popular heart medications, anti-depressants, antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, chemotherapy drugs, veterinary drugs, and hormones are turning up in groundwater across the world. A recent water quality study found those and other drugs present in San Francisco Bay. The easiest way to limit the amount of these potentially hazardous drugs in our water is to not flush them down the toilet or pour them down the drain.
Where to Dispose of Unwanted or Expired Medications
Alameda County residents can bring unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs to the Oakland, Hayward, or Livermore household hazardous waste sites. If possible, medications should be in their original containers, but the sites will accept those that are not. Be sure to remove your name and identifying information from all medicine labels. Controlled substances are not accepted. For information on how to safely dispose of controlled substances, email HHW@acgov.org.
Alameda County residents should bring proof of residency when visiting a county household hazardous waste site. Hours of operation and directions are available at www.household-hazwaste.org or (800) 606-6606. For more information on the potential danger of pharmaceuticals in the waste stream and what you can do about it, visit www.NoDrugsDownTheDrain.org.