The time has come for the federal government to regulate pharmaceuticals that are showing up in the nation's drinking water.
The federal government also should take the lead in a national program to recover unused prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines for safe disposal.
Increased regulation and improved disposal programs are necessary to keep up with the ever-increasing use of drugs in the United States.
Consider this: From 1993 to 2003, the U.S. population grew by 13 percent. In those same 10 years, the number of prescriptions purchased in this country climbed by a whopping 70 percent — from 2 billion to 3.4 billion. In 2005, some 53 million prescriptions were filled in Washington state, according to a state Department of Ecology study.
When drugs are consumed, residues are excreted and flushed down the toilet where they enter sewer systems and on-site septic systems.
An even more direct exposure pathway is the flushing of unused medication down the drain or dumping into the garbage.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America estimate that about 3 percent of all prescription drugs go unused. Studies in Germany and Austria estimate wastage of medicines much higher — 25 percent to 33 percent.
Here in the Puget Sound region, wastewater tainted with drugs either goes to a treatment plant that discharges directly or indirectly to Puget Sound and groundwater recharge basins or to septic drainfields that interact with groundwater. One way or another, drug residues can enter Puget Sound or drinking water supplies.
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