Pollution caused by drug dumping can’t be ignored
Add flushed meds—and perhaps recluse reptiles—to your list of concerns
Notes on the news:
■ Years ago, one of the more popular urban legends concerned the New York sewer system. According to this myth, pet alligators abandoned in the system prowled the tunnels and had become addicted to the narcotics city dwellers flushed down their toilets during police raids. The drug-crazed creatures had evolved into albino predators who munched on sewer workers.
This legend surely will be updated soon, if it hasn’t already. In the new telling, the gators will be mutants created by a deluge of prescription drugs flushed into the sewers.
As reporter Gregg Blesch noted in our May 24 Cover Story (p. 6), government officials are becoming increasingly concerned by hazardous products turning up in the nation’s water, and they are looking to hospitals as one of the sources of that pollution. In 2008, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on pharmaceuticals in drinking water after the Associated Press published a series of stories outlining the problem.
The issue also has attracted the attention of state officials, including New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. That investigation into the disposal practices of hospitals and nursing homes led to settlements with two critical-access hospitals and three nursing homes. Cuomo’s office alleged the dumped drugs were flowing into the reservoirs and lakes that provide water to 9 million residents of the New York metropolitan area.
And as Blesch points out, Environmental Protection Agency records show 244 hospitals have been found in violation of a key hazardous materials statute over the past five years for mishandling drugs and other toxic substances.
Many hospitals and industry groups are working to remedy the pollution, and that’s good. While the ultimate effect of these drugs on the environment and human health are unknown, evidence so far is not encouraging. Studies have shown, for instance, that male fish are femininized by very low levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals, including pharmaceutical hormones as well as chemicals in pesticides and detergents found in treated wastewater.
There are plenty of problems that healthcare executives have to contend with in the 21st century. Unfortunately, this is another one that shouldn’t be relegated to the back Bunsen burner.
■ A sign of things to come came last week when Gentiva Health Services agreed to acquire hospice provider Odyssey HealthCare for about $1 billion. The acquisition would combine Gentiva’s nursing-home operations with the hospice business, sharing referrals and a variety of staffing resources.
The deal reflects growing interest in the post-acute industry fueled by the aging of the population. Analysts say we can expect to see more consolidation in the home-health, nursing home and hospice sectors as the baby boomers turn grayer.
■ On the subject of aging, the Washington Post last week published a guest commentary by author Fred Pearce. He argued that as longevity grows around the world, society will benefit from an older, wiser workforce and an enlightened citizenry.
We hope so. But looking at the current state of the planet, including an oil-infused Gulf of Mexico, it’s hard to embrace the notion that age brings wisdom. Nearly 40 years after the oil shocks of the 1970s, today’s elders clearly haven’t learned much about petroleum addiction or other environmental dangers.
The fight for clean air and water is among the most important public health issues of our time. Healthcare executives and professionals ought to be leading advocates for and guardians of the environment — preferably before we’re devoured by sexually disrupted, oil-blackened alligators high on mood-altering drugs.