Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Timothy Eustace (D-Bergen) and Daniel Benson (D-Middlesex/Mercer) to protect New Jersey’s public water by prohibiting health care institutions from discharging unused prescription medication into sewer or septic systems has been signed into law.
The law (A-733) would prohibit a health care institution, or any employee, staff person, contractor, or other person under the direction or supervision of the health care institution, from discharging, disposing of, flushing, pouring, or emptying any unused prescription medication into a public wastewater collection system or a septic system.
“It is disconcerting that institutions charged with maintaining our health and well-being would engage in such reckless activities that put public safety at risk,” said Eustace. “This law will address the growing threat to the environment and human health posed by the improper disposal of unused prescription medications, which has been manifested in recent reports of prescription drugs found in public water supplies and the potential hazards this poses in terms of long-term health consequences.”
“A report by the AP uncovered that medications had been detected in the drinking water supplies of several major metropolitan areas, including New Jersey. This is unacceptable,” said Benson. “These institutions should know better that they can't pollute our water supplies with medications that can be harmful to the public and the environment. This law will ensure they take the necessary steps to keep our water clean.”
The law defines a “health care institution” as a health care facility licensed pursuant to P.L.1971, c.136 (C.26:2H-1 et seq.), a psychiatric facility as defined in section 2 of P.L.1987, c.116 (C.30:4-27.2), or a state developmental center listed in R.S.30:1-7.
The law requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue recommendations for the proper disposal of unused prescription medications at a health care institution within 90 days.
The law also requires every health care institution to submit to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the DEP a plan for the proper disposal of unused prescription medications within 120 days. The DHSS, in consultation with the DEP, will have 90 days to approve or reject any plan. If a plan is rejected, the health care institution will have to resubmit a revised plan within 30 days after receiving notice of the rejection. A plan submitted by a health care institution could not be rejected if it is in compliance with the recommendations issued by the DEP.
The DHSS is also required, in conjunction with its periodic inspection of a licensed health care facility as authorized by law, to ensure that the health care facility is in compliance with the plan submitted.
A health care institution, or any employee, staff person, contractor, or other person under the direction or supervision of the health care institution, found in violation of any provision of this law will be subject to a civil administrative penalty of not more than $1,000 for a first violation and not more than $2,500 for each subsequent violation. In addition, a health care institution that fails to submit the plan required by the law will be subject to a civil administrative penalty of $1,000, and an additional $1,000 per day thereafter for which the health care institution fails to submit the required plan.
According to the Associated Press, a vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of some 41 million Americans. In the course of a five-month inquiry, an AP National Investigative Team discovered that medications have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas, including New Jersey.
It has also been reported that researchers at the United States Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.