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Topical Medications And Bathing: A Source Of Water Pollution

I have written two posts in the past on proper disposal of unused medications, and I have always been mindful of the medicines as a source of environmental water pollution. This past week the American Chemical Society reminded (head-slapped me) that topical medications are a source of environmental water pollution from their active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Yes, the simple act of bathing washes hormones, antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals down the drain into the water supply.

Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D. and colleague Christian Daughton, Ph.D. looked at potential alternative routes for the entry into the environment by way of bathing, showering, and laundering. These routes may be important for certain APIs found in medications that are applied topically to the skin — creams, lotions, ointments, gels, and skin patches. These APIs include steroids (such as cortisone and testosterone), acne medicine, antimicrobials, narcotics, and other substances.

Ruhoy feels some APIs in topical medications have the potential of having a greater impact than those released in feces and urine. Topical medications are un-metabolized and full-strength when washed off. Those in feces and urine have been metabolized and are not full-strength.

APIs may go right through the disinfection process at sewage treatment plants, and enter lakes, rivers, and oceans. Trace amounts of the active ingredients of birth control pills, antidepressants, and other drugs have been found in waterways. Some end up in drinking water at extremely low, trace levels.

“We need to be more aware of how our use of pharmaceuticals can have unwanted environmental effects,” Ruhoy said. “Identifying the major pathways in which APIs enter the environment is an important step toward the goal of minimizing their environmental impact.”

Things you can do as a responsible citizen:

*  Use the topical prescription as directed, in the amount needed (more is not better, especially for the environment).

*  Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so.

*  To dispose of prescription drugs not labeled to be flushed, you may be able to take advantage of community drug take‐back programs or other programs, such as household hazardous waste collection events, that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal.

*  Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take‐back program is available in your community.

Related posts:

Unused and Old Medications (January 1, 2008)

Unused Prescription Medications (June 15, 2009)


American Chemical Society

American Pharmacy Association

White House Drug Policy

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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One Response to “Topical Medications And Bathing: A Source Of Water Pollution”

  1. Ann Smith says:

    I have read a few other blogs about similar things of how simply people wash harmful chemicals into water, and are completely oblivious to it. And I agree, this human-made pollution needs to stop, because it’s taking a toll on the marine environment. In a blog I read earlier, it stated that beauty products and sunscreen held some sort of chemical that made the male and female fish produce the other sex’s genitals. Also, it’s been clear that what we put into the water comes back and affects us, like certain health hazards that come with polluted water. People should start taking more care to what they put down the drain.

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