As the product stewardship movement gains steam, attention is turning to the issue of unsafe disposal of residue or unwanted consumer pharmaceuticals. The widespread detection of pharmaceutical residues in public waters and fish has raised biologists’ concerns. In Minnesota, the popularity of public-sponsored take-back days and a coming legislative proposal in the 2010 session to create a network of collection facilities, funded by pharmaceutical makers, adds a new twist to the problem. The U.S. Geological Survey has published a series of reports detailing the presence of pharmaceuticals in America’s waters, either excreted by consumers or flushed down the toilet after some use or when the medications are no longer needed or wanted. Some government agencies — including some that regulate nursing homes, for example — urge or even require flushing of such medications, which sewage plants are unable to treat effectively.
The effects of the trace pharmaceuticals in aquatic environments are not fully understood, but biologists believe they may be contributing to the feminization of fish.
Until now, product stewardship campaigns in states have focused on electronic waste recycling and similar laws. The proposed Minnesota legislation could reform rules requiring flushing of some medications, provide consumer education, and create a take-back system.
Image: City of San Rafael, California.