Bay Journal

Got Drugs? April 26 Take Back Drug Day Offers Spring Cleaning for the Bay

Rite of spring helps keep pharmaceuticals out of waterways

  • By Leslie Middleton on April 23, 2014
National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

There are some things about spring that are predictable.

If, like me, you own a home with any kind of yard and any kind of lawn, you’ll probably be doing more yard work to outpace the spring rain, longer days and warmer weather. Then there’s the changeover in clothing, from more sweaters to fewer, from pants to shorts. And there’s the urge many of us have to do some spring-cleaning.

Fortunately, some of that spring-cleaning can make a big difference for local water waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

On April 26 from 10 AM to 2 PM, police departments, hospitals, and schools all over the country – and the Bay watershed -- will host the eighth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Now held twice a year in April and October, this national initiative helps make sure that out-of-date prescription and over the counter drugs are disposed of in a way that is safe for people, safe for animals, and safe for our waterways. You can use this link to find a drop-off location near you.  

Since I wrote about this program last October, I’ve been filling a special plastic zip lock bag that I keep on the top shelf of our linen closet.

Outdated medicines from an equally outdated first-aid kit?  Into the plastic bag they go.

No longer used NSAIDs? Plastic bag for these, too.

Leftover painkillers from my husband’s hospital stay last winter?  Same, same.

While many of us may be tempted to just flush these items down the toilet – out of sight, out of mind – most of these substances wash right through waste water treatment plants, which are not equipped to remove many of the chemicals.

Even homeowners with private septic systems should think twice about flushing unwanted prescriptions down the drain or bowl. These substances can leech into the surrounding groundwater, making their way to nearby streams or drinking water wells.

The sheer number of pharmaceutical substances found in our Bay waterways is staggering. According to the December 2012 report, “Toxic Contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed: Extent and Severity of Occurrence,” nearly three-fourths of the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal waters are “fully or partially impaired” by toxic chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

EPA’s guidance about how to dispose of medicines properly? First choice: use a take-back event, where substances are collected for proper disposal (usually incineration).  Other options for safe household disposal are described HERE.

Water managers – including those at the Chesapeake Bay Program – are grappling with how to address the ubiquitous presence of pharmaceuticals and home health care products – many of which are toxic in even small amounts to fish and wildlife.

Based on the overwhelming number of public comments urging toxics goals be included in the new Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the Principals’ Staff Committee has recommended toxic contaminant goals be included in the version awaiting final approval by the Bay program’s executive committee in June.

In the meantime, I have an opportunity to do my fair share for my local waterway during this rite of spring.

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About Leslie Middleton

Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read more articles by Leslie Middleton


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