Bay Area residents have had options for getting rid of old pills piling up in their medicine cabinets. But the "No Drugs Down the Drain" campaign launched Monday wants to make sure consumers take their leftover pharmaceuticals to local law enforcement agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other designated drop-off sites.
The effort by the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group is aimed at keeping unused medications from being flushed down toilets, poured into drains or dumped in the garbage.
Instead residents can go to www.baywise.org or call 888-BAYWISE (888-229-9473) to find their nearest disposal site.
"Now that we are beginning to understand the negative impact pharmaceuticals can have on fish and wildlife, flushing is not considered to be proper disposal," said Melody LaBella, the organization's project manager.
California pharmacies filled 358 million prescriptions in 2010, according to the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group.
Some of those found their way into waterways, harming the environment and aquatic life, according to the organization, which is the public education arm of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District, city of San Jose and Central Contra Costa Sanitary District are principal members. In Contra Costa County alone, 18 tons of unwanted pharmaceuticals have been collected over the past three years, according to the Bay Area
Increasingly, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants and birth control are showing up in the waterways.
By some estimates, up to 90 percent of a medicine dose can pass through a person and outdated treatment plants unchanged, going directly into the Bay.
The treatment plants, built decades ago to handle pathogens, need to be upgraded to deal with those compounds, said Deb Self, executive director of the watchdog nonprofit San Francisco Baykeeper.
Wastewater treatment agencies have become concerned especially because the drugs have been linked to abnormalities in aquatic creatures.
Municipalities in the meantime have turned to a variety of laws to deal with the problem.
Alameda County passed an ordinance this summer that makes drug manufacturers responsible for collecting the leftover medications, although it does not specify how the companies plan to dispose of them.
Physicians, pharmacists and veterinarians still advise people to flush their leftover medications.