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According to the EPA, the leading source of pollution in surface drinking water supplies is polluted rainwater runoff. Many pollutants are found in legal, commonly used household products – cleaning chemicals for our homes, oil and gasoline for our vehicles, pesticides and fertilizers for our lawns, and pharmaceuticals for ourselves.
Please help protect our water supplies by making sure these potentially harmful products are used only in limited quantities when necessary, and that they are disposed of properly.
For simple household tips on what you can do to help, see the links below
Landscaping and gardening practices can harm water quality. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are chemicals that pose risks to human health and the environment. Overuse of fertilizers containing phosphorous and nitrogen can impair waterbodies by causing “eutrophication,” a condition where high levels of nutrients cause algae blooms, which in turn reduce the level of dissolved oxygen available in the water supply and can cause wildlife to die. Vegetation removal and the preference for lawns increases stormwater runoff and can lead to the loss of important wetlands and riparian buffer areas, expose soils, and cause erosion and sedimentation.
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to reduce the use of potentially harmful chemicals. Go organic! You can also use landscaping and gardening techniques to control stormwater runoff, capture and infiltrate other pollutants washing off impervious surfaces.
The chemical compounds contained in everyday household products – old electronics and appliances, cleaning products, paints and solvents, used motor oil and antifreeze, batteries, pesticides, and medicines – are hazardous to human health and the environment. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)reports that Americans generate 1.6 million tons of hazardous household waste each year.
Exposure risks arise when products are not used and disposed of properly. Too frequently, liquid products are washed down sinks and toilets, poured into storm drains, or even dumped on the ground and pollute our environment. Solid wastes that are thrown in household garbage are transferred to landfills where toxins become concentrated and leach into our environment. These practices pose risks to human health by contaminating drinking water supplies, and damage both land and aquatic environments for all life.
• Proper storage of hazardous household products is necessary to avoid spills, leaks, and/or ignition of flammable compounds. Products should be stored in their original containers with original labels to avoid accidents.
• Special collection days. Find out if there are any designated days in your town or county for collecting solid waste at a central location to ensure safe management and disposal.
• Local business collection sites. You may be able to drop off certain products at local businesses for recycling or proper disposal. Some local garages, for example, accept used motor oil for recycling
• Permanent collection or exchange facilities. Some have exchange areas for unused or leftover paints, solvents, pesticides, cleaning and automotive products, and other materials.
Pharmaceuticals – including prescription and non-prescription drugs, steroids and hormones – are also household pollutants that are released into the environment through wastewater treatment plants and household septic systems, contaminating drinking water wells and stream base flows. A recent study of organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams included 11 sampling sites in the Croton watershed. All 11 sampled streams contained detectable levels of human pharmaceutical compounds.
Improper disposal of household hazardous wastes includes pouring them down the drain or on the ground, into storm sewers, or in some cases putting them out with the trash.
There are many take-back drug programs being implemented across the country. New York State falls far behind many others in developing a safe and effective method for keeping pharmaceuticals out of our water supply. Riverkeeper will be engaging in dialogue at the federal, state, and local levels of government to bring safe drug disposal programs to New York State.
In the interim, however, there are new recommendations – that we endorse – to dispose of drugs in a manner that is least likely to impact our State’s water:
To properly dispose of medication, keep it in its plastic container, fill it with water and Kitty Litter or sand, place the cap on the bottle, put it into a zip lock plastic bag, then dispose of it in the trash.
The other option for discarding medications is to take them to your local hazardous waste facility or hazardous waste clean up day location.