Fine Print: S-246

The legislation looks to prohibit the improper disposal of prescription medication in New Jersey waterways

Synopsis: The bill would prohibit healthcare institutions from dumping unused prescription medicine into toilets or otherwise flushing the medication into New Jersey waterways.

Sponsor: Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset)

What it aims to do: The bill tries to respond to threats to the environment and human health posed by the improper disposal of unused medications. These have 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.

How it came about: The legislation was spurred by an investigation by the Associated Press, which found a vast array of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of some 41 million Americans in 24 metropolitan areas, including New Jersey. The pharmaceuticals included mood stabilizers, antibiotics and sex hormones. Proponents say the array of chemicals pose potential health problems to both humans and fish.

Why it raises concerns: The contaminants, although widespread, have been found only in trace amounts and the health effects are largely unknown. Some senators question whether the improper disposal of unused medication is the biggest source of the chemicals showing up in drinking water supplies, saying some research traces the problem to human waste in sewer systems.

Prospects: The bill cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee after the panel adopted several amendments. The most important, which dealt with concerns raised by healthcare facilities, was to insert the word “prescription” before medication. The committee also widened the timeframe for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt rules governing proper disposal of prescription medication and for facilities to submit disposal plans to the state.

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