New York hospitals, nursing homes fined for drug dumping

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced financial settlements this week with five healthcare facilities located in the New York City region to immediately end the practice of disposing of pharmaceutical waste into the watershed.

The five facilities are located within the New York City watershed, a 2000 square mile area that drains into reservoirs and lakes providing drinking water to eight million residents of New York City and one million people living in surrounding counties.

The settlements arose from an ongoing investigation by Cuomo's office into the pharmaceutical waste management practices of hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities located within the New York City watershed.

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The healthcare facilities fined include: O'Connor Hospital, in Delhi, N.Y.; Margaretville Memorial Hospital, in Margaretville, N.Y.; Mountainside Residential Care Center, a nursing home in Margaretville, N.Y.; Countryside Care Center, a nursing home in Delhi, N.Y.; and Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Holmes, N.Y.

The facilities received fines of between $3,000 and $12,000. Cuomo's office said all of the facilities cooperated with the investigation.

The practice of flushing unused pharmaceuticals allows for the release of painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, hormones and other waste drugs into the watershed. To date, only trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have been found in the New York City drinking water supply.

The settlements require each of the five healthcare facilities to immediately cease all discharges of pharmaceutical wastes into waterways within New York City's watershed and, direct them to waste management facilities capable of safely treating pharmaceuticals.

Each facility is also required to take other specific steps to ensure safe disposal of pharmaceutical and other wastes in the watershed, including:

  • Ensuring that waste management practices, including those related to pharmaceutical waste, comply fully with all New York and federal laws and regulations related to waste management and clean water
  • Paying civil penalties for past violations of law and costs incurred by the state in the investigation
  • Implementing pharmaceutical "take back programs" to ensure the collection and proper disposal of pharmaceutical wastes generated by area households.
  • In addition to identifying that the five facilities flushed pharmaceutical wastes down sinks and toilets, Cuomo's investigation found that the facilities' handling of pharmaceutical wastes and other wastes violated various provisions of the federal waste management law (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or "RCRA"), state regulations implementing RCRA, and, in some instances, the federal Clean Water Act.

Violations included the failure to properly identify, track, and dispose of pharmaceutical and other wastes defined as "hazardous waste" under RCRA.

According to Cuomo's office, low levels of pharmaceuticals in waterways are harming fish and other aquatic wildlife. There are no long-term studies to evaluate the affect on humans of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in drinking water nor is there any documented evidence of harm to date. However, concerns have been raised about the public health consequences of low-level exposures to synthetic hormones, psychoactive drugs, and other waste pharmaceuticals.