(NaturalNews) Five health care facilities have signed an agreement with the New York Attorney General's Office to settle charges that they polluted the state's watersheds by dumping pharmaceutical products down sinks and toilets.
In 2008, and Associated Press investigation revealed that the drinking water consumed by more than one-sixth of the U.S. population is contaminated with trace (but potentially biologically active) amounts of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. While some of these chemicals enter sewage systems after being excreted by people taking the drugs, many of them were traced back to a common practice in hospitals and other health-care facilities: disposing of unused pharmaceuticals by flushing them down sinks or toilets.
After state tests of New York watersheds revealed widespread pharmaceutical contamination, the Attorney General's Office launched an investigation. Eventually, five facilities -- Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Holmes in Putnam County, and O'Connor Hospital, Countryside Care Center, Margaretville Memorial Hospital and Mountainside Residential Care Center in Delaware County -- were charged with numerous federal and state violations, including failure to properly track, label, store and dispose of drugs. The hospitals and nursing homes were found to have improperly dumped antibiotics, antidepressants, hormones, painkillers and other pharmaceutical products directly into the state water supply.
The watersheds contaminated supply water to New York City's eight million residents, as well as another one million people in several counties to the north.
Each facility will pay a fine of between $3,500 and $12,500. Although state law does not prohibit the dumping of all pharmaceuticals down the drain -- only some -- the facilities have agreed to end the practice completely.
Ten other health care facilities in the state are also being investigated for watershed pollution through drug dumping. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called the practice "an emerging threat."
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified pharmaceutical products as "contaminants of growing concern."