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Partnership between Erie County DEP, health care facilities focuses on proper disposal of pharmaceuticals

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Wed, Sep 23rd 2015 04:15 pm

Improper disposal endangers human health, environment; Erie County medical care waste pharmaceutical disposal program promotes proper control

The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning has announced a new, grant-funded partnership between the department and area health care facilities to better promote and assist in the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals through the medical care waste pharmaceutical disposal program. ECDEP secured $99,222 in grant funding from the Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment for the program, which will promote and assist with the implementation of procedures for long-term care and other assisted living facilities to properly capture, store and destroy unused pharmaceuticals through a comprehensive and cooperative approach that identifies best practices and methods tailored for each individual participating health care facility.

"Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste from medical care facilities has the potential to contaminate our water supply and negatively impact human health and the environment," Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said. "In addition, non-secure disposal of waste pharmaceuticals may provide opportunities for the mishandling and abuse of narcotics and other controlled substances. It is important that we do all we can to protect our health, our families and our environment by properly disposing of pharmaceuticals. This partnership provides a framework for doing that on a larger scale."

Current best practices for the elimination of waste pharmaceuticals at medical facilities include disposal to a sanitary sewer or with regular trash, resulting in uncontrolled discharges of pharmaceuticals into the environment. Pharmaceuticals that pass through wastewater treatment systems and enter waterways have been shown to have adverse impacts upon native fish populations, while proper control and incineration of waste pharmaceuticals minimizes both the risk to the environment and the potential for misuse.

The program will educate medical care facility staff on proper inventory and control of waste pharmaceuticals, along with facilitating its collection and proper disposal. Partnerships with area health care providers interested in joining the program are currently being formed.

"We're thrilled to partner with Erie County on this innovative program to protect our Great Lakes by ensuring the safe disposal of unused pharmaceutical drugs from area health care facilities," said Brian Smith, associate executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "Pharmaceutical drugs should be dispensed from a pharmacy, not our household faucets. Increasing access to safe disposal options is the most effective way to keep our waters drug-free."

The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning has been a leading advocate for the availability of pharmaceutical waste disposal sites for county residents. Under the CCE grant, ECDEP will work individually with partner agencies to identify and implement appropriate practices for the proper disposal of waste pharmaceuticals. Single day collection events will be held at senior centers, assisted care facilities and in rural municipalities as a supplement to achieving program objectives. These events will target households with family members receiving in-home assisted living services. The single day events will include an education component for residents on the proper disposal of pharmaceutical waste.

A 2005 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report stated long-term-care facilities account for a third of unused medications, with households (non-hospital/non-pharmacy) accounting for the remaining two-thirds. More than 90 percent of the wasted medication is due to change in prescription, death or transfer of the resident. These unwanted drugs are often disposed of by flushing down the toilet.

"The Great Lakes and all of Western New York's waters face enough risks without unneeded pharmaceuticals being flushed into them. We've got to make safe disposal of such products the rule, not the exception. The program being announced today by Erie County is a great way to move us towards truly sustainable practice in this area, and so Riverkeeper is proud to be a part of it," stated Paul Gallay, president of Hudson Riverkeeper.

All waste pharmaceuticals will be incinerated at Covanta Niagara, following all NYSDEC guidelines. Incineration is the most environmentally sound method of disposing of waste medications.

For more information on the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, visit http://www2.erie.gov/environment/.

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