Highlighted in the December 2018 issue of Estuary News, a new report from the Bay’s Regional Monitoring Program documents the presence of numerous medications in the region’s wastewater. In 2016 and 2017, seven wastewater treatment facilities located throughout the Bay Area voluntarily collected wastewater samples and funded analyses for 104 pharmaceutical compounds. This dataset represents the most comprehensive analysis of pharmaceuticals in wastewater to date in this region.
Flushing expired or unused drugs down the toilet, once a common practice, is now discouraged with educational campaigns and slogans like “Don’t rush to flush.” Meanwhile, a large portion of these compounds enter wastewater when they are excreted from our bodies. Because wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove pharmaceuticals completely, low levels of some compounds are discharged to San Francisco Bay daily.
Comparison of the concentrations in treated wastewater relative to available toxicity thresholds suggested 17 medications may pose risks to Bay wildlife. The pharmaceuticals identified include antibiotics, antidepressants, an anticonvulsant, an antihistamine, over-the-counter and prescription painkillers, and drugs treating diabetes and high blood pressure.
On September 30, 2018, Governor Brown signed SB 212, an act to create a statewide takeback program for pharmaceuticals and sharps from households, to be funded by pharmaceutical manufacturers. California joins both New York and Washington in implementing statewide pharmaceutical takeback programs. Bay Area wastewater agencies welcome this new effort to reduce the levels of pharmaceuticals making their way into wastewater.