Before the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services
by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Senator Brannigan, Representative Perry, and members of the Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 12,000 members and supporters and work on a variety of issues including energy policy, land conservation, river restoration and environmental health issues.
NRCM supports LD 821 and we thank Representative Perry for bringing this bill to the attention of the committee. LD 821 would create a producer-financed collection program for properly managing unwanted medications from households. Creating a permanent collection and disposal program will protect Maine’s environment and reduce accidental poisonings, drug abuse and violent crime. As our focus on this issue concerns the environment, I will direct my comments to the impacts of drugs in the environment and the need to lessen those impacts through the program proposed by LD 821.
Many types of human and animal pharmaceuticals are found in the environment, including birth-control hormones, antibiotics, analgesics, steroids, antidepressants, anti-cancer drugs, tranquilizers and animal growth hormones (1). The presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment depends upon their individual chemical structure and the frequency of their use. Numerous environmental studies document the presence of pharmaceuticals in surface water, ground water, soils, sediments, and marine waters (2). A 2002 national USGS study states that “certain [pharmaceutical] chemicals may have harmful environmental effects even at very low levels. Furthermore, some may be persistent in the environment.” (3) The environmental effects of these chemicals may be long lasting and could be enhanced by cumulative and synergistic effects when these chemicals are combined in the environment (4).
These studies predominantly conclude that pharmaceuticals are present wherever wastewater has been discharged and are generated in two ways.
• Excretion from our bodies: Humans and animals pass drugs or drug metabolites through their bodies and then these chemicals pass through septic systems or wastewater treatment plants.
• Direct disposal to sewers or landfills: Medications can enter the environment when flushed down toilets or sinks or thrown into the garbage. They can pass through septic systems and through wastewater treatment plants.
Unfortunately, conventional wastewater treatment systems do not do a good job of removing or destroying pharmaceuticals. No single treatment process will completely remove all of the thousands of different pharmaceutical compounds.
No one knows exactly how much of the drugs in our environment come from each of the two pathways. We do know that a significant amount of medications go unused. Unwanted waste medications can be prevented from entering the environment through collection and safe disposal provided by pharmaceutical take-back-programs. Preventative programs are far more economical than wastewater treatment or cleanup.
The residues of these drugs pose a threat to wildlife and humans because they are widely distributed and because they tend to be highly biologically active. Unlike industrial chemicals which tend to be concentrated around industrial plant sites, pharmaceuticals are extensively distributed through the environment due to widespread human use Because these drugs are chosen for their biological effects, their increased occurrence in the environment and their possible cumulative effects on wildlife and humans is cause for alarm. I’ve attached brief summaries of a number of studies demonstrating the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals, and while I won’t go into them with my testimony, a significant area of concern is the prevalence of drugs that disrupt normal endocrine activity. As you can see, even extremely low levels of certain pharmaceuticals can cause developmental and reproductive problems in fish, and metamorphosis delays in amphibians. Because timing is crucial to the survival of many water creatures, any developmental delays could lead to reproductive failure.
The Community Medical Foundation for Patient Safety reports that 40% of medications go unused based on national samples of pill counts. As most pharmaceuticals discarded by consumers are probably flushed down the sewer or discarded with household trash, LD 821 addresses part of the problem. By creating a system to deal with unused and expired pharmaceuticals, the state will prevent the additional release of these chemicals into the environment and their subsequent contamination of aquatic ecosystems, wildlife and Maine citizens.
LD 821 requires pharmaceutical producers to plan and finance a cost-effective medication return program for Maine. From what we understand, they provide this service in Canada and several European countries and have experience in running collection and disposal programs. Local Maine governments do not have this expertise and cannot carry the financial burden of collecting and properly disposing of unwanted medications. LD 821 would create a safe and secure system, managed by the companies that are doing similar programs in other parts of the world. We urge you to support it.
Thank you and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
1 McBride, Mark and John Wyckoff. “Emerging Liabilities from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” US Geological Survey. 2002. Pg. 175.
2 A nationwide survey conducted by the USGS in 1999 studied 139 streams in 30 states for 95 organic wastewater compounds, including some pharmaceuticals. At least 1 medicine was detected in 80% of the sites surveyed. Acetaminophen was found in 23.8% of streams tested, the antibiotic trimethoprim was found in 27.4% of streams tested, codeine was found in 10.6% of streams tested. Concentrations of pharmaceuticals were generally low.
Kolpin, D.W., et al., 2002, Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S.
Streams, 1999-2000, Environ. Sci. Technol. 36:1202-1211. Abstract available online at:
http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/2002/36/i06/abs/es011055j.html accessed 08/25/08. See also:
3 McBride, Mark and John Wyckoff. “Emerging Liabilities from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” US Geoligical Survey. 2002. Pg. 175.
4 Ibid. Pg. 176.