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October 8, 2008 > Protect the Water! Don't Flush Those Medications

Protect the Water! Don't Flush Those Medications

Washington Hospital and Union Sanitary District Partner to Offer Environmentally Friendly Solution

You're cleaning out the medicine cabinet and you find an expired cough syrup, a prescription painkiller from five years ago and two bottles of miscellaneous medications so old you can't even remember why you had them in the first place.
The question is: what do you do with your old medications? The commonly held wisdom used to be to toss old drugs down the drain or flush them in the toilet. Not anymore.

Local, regional, state and federal agencies have joined together in the No Drugs Down the Drain campaign, a one-week California-wide educational campaign during the week of Oct. 4 -11 to remind residents that because of the potential environmental consequences, disposing of leftover medication down the toilet is no longer acceptable.

In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of improper disposal of medication, Washington Hospital has partnered with the Union Sanitary District to offer Tri-City area residents a convenient, safe and environmentally sound option for disposing of old medications.

Beginning October 4, and during the hospital's upcoming Emergency Preparedness Fair on October 9th, the hospital will make available temporary receptacles for the drop-off of old or unwanted medications. Once established, permanent drop-off sites will be available in the following locations:
* Washington Hospital Main Lobby, 2000 Mowry Ave., Fremont
* Community Health Resource Library, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
* WTMG @ Nakamura Clinic, Union City, 33077 Alvarado Niles Rd., Union City
* WTMG @ Newark, 35500 Dumbarton Court, Newark
* WTMG @ Warm Springs, 46690 Mohave Drive, Fremont

"The way the process works is if community members have cough medicines, creams or other liquids they will be asked put the entire container in the receptacle," explains Paul Kelley, manager of the hospital's Biomedical Engineering Department, who is spearheading the hospital's new Green Team initiative. "If it's pills they're looking to dispose of, we request that they leave just the pills themselves and take the containers home to recycle since we can't be responsible for the patient information contained on the bottles."

Kelley notes that the hospital began working to put a medication disposal program in place since the day The Associated Press broke the article several months back about pharmaceuticals in the water supply.

"I was meeting with the hospital's CEO Nancy Farber about our Green Team initiative and that was the first thing she said: 'We have to address this issue.' She was very passionate that we needed to give the patients and the community a way to dispose of medications properly," Kelley remembers.

By partnering with Union Sanitary District - an independent special district which provides wastewater collection, treatment and disposal services to the residents and businesses of the cities of Fremont, Newark and Union City - Washington Hospital will offer five of the few permanent public disposal sites available to Tri-City area residents.

After working on similar projects for the past year, Michael Auer, environmental outreach coordinator for the Union Sanitary District, says he's thrilled that the partnership will offer local residents a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of their medications.

"This will be an ongoing program, which we're really excited about," Auer says. "We get a lot more people these days asking, 'What can I do with unused medications?' and it's great that Washington Hospital will be able to offer permanent medication disposal sites. Years ago, it was common practice to put medications down the drain. Today, most people know that it's not the right way to dispose of them. They can take them to household hazardous waste facilities, but this new disposal program is the best alternative possible. And with Washington Hospital being such a staple in the area, it's a convenient location for most people."

Auer explains that treatment plants like Union Sanitary District's are meant to treat normal household wastes. These plants are not equipped to treat pharmaceuticals that, if flushed into the sewage system, can pass out into the San Francisco Bay. As chemical analysis technology has improved, even trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in rivers, bays and oceans that present potential impacts to fish and wildlife can be detected. That's why, Auer says, bringing unused medications to Washington Hospital for disposal is the best alternative. The service is free to residents and Union Sanitary District pays for a third-party vendor to haul the waste away to a site where it is incinerated. And notably, even the heat produced in the incineration process is recycled to help generate power for a nearby military base.

"We've been working on this initiative for a long time now," Auer says. "It's very gratifying to know that the hospital is as proactive about this program as we are."

For more information about the environmental impact of flushing medications or for facts about recycling, Auer recommends community members visit and

Don't Miss the Washington Hospital Emergency Preparedness Fair on October 9
Medication recycling containers will be made available during Washington Hospital's upcoming Emergency Preparedness Fair being held Thursday, October 9, from 3 to 7 p.m. in the parking lot of Washington West (2500 Mowry Ave.) across the street from the main hospital.

The fair is free to the public and will feature several informational booths and members of the local police and fire service agencies will be on hand to answer your questions. Free health screenings for cholesterol, diabetes, and blood pressure will also be available and a special Kids Zone and art contest for students will also take place.

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