Spring Cleaning | Your Medicine Cabinet

By Kristin Giacalone

Spring has arrived, and with it, the ever dreaded spring cleaning.  While you are washing your windows and cleaning your curtains, take a look inside your medicine cabinet.  If you are anything like me, it is overflowing with unfinished, expired prescriptions and cold remedies.  Now is a great time to clean out that medicine cabinet, but don’t throw those medicines away and definitely do not flush them!

Did you know that 80% of America’s waters that were tested during a recent US Geological Survey study were found to be contaminated with low levels of pharmaceuticals like cholesterol medication, hormones and antidepressants?    These medications enter our water supply through several different pathways, including human and animal excretion of unmetabolized drugs, waste water treatment plants that are not designed to remove these chemicals at such low concentrations, and through septic systems and poorly designed landfills.   So when we flush our expired medications, as we have always been told to, we are introducing our medications straight into our drinking water supply and waters that serve as habitat to countless aquatic species.  While research has clearly shown that constant low level exposure to these medications is having unwanted health effects on aquatic species, it is not yet known what the effects might be on humans.

So how exactly do you get rid of those half empty bottles of antibiotics you stopped taking when you were feeling better or that prescription you didn’t finish because your doctor prescribed you something else instead?  Bring them to your local drop-off location during the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28.  The DEA has set up drop-off locations around the country to collect unused and unwanted prescriptions as well as over the counter medications.  The items collected will be properly disposed of through incineration.

Here in Region 2, we are sponsoring collection days on Wednesday, April 25 for our New York City and Edison, NJ employees and on Thursday, April 26 for our Puerto Rico employees.   DEA agents will collect the medications dropped off by EPA and other federal employees for proper disposal.  I look forward to emptying my medicine cabinet!  What about you?

Check out the DEA website to find a collection site near you.

About the Author: Kristin is a Project Manager in the Superfund Program and oversees the clean up of three Superfund sites in New Jersey.  She is also a participant in EPA Region 2’s Leadership Development Program, and as a member of Team Symbiotics, is working with DEA to increase awareness of the water quality issues posed by the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.