Narragansett Bay and its watershed are exposed to many contaminants from runoff, industry and waste water. New work being done by Victoria Sacks and her colleagues at URI is helping us to understand what are being called "emerging contaminants" - those things that are derived from human activity that cannot be removed in the waste water treatment process. These include endocrine disrupting compounds that are found in personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and industrial processes.
In a recent study, passive samplers were deployed around the Bay watershed by volunteers, and measured levels of triclosans (common in antibacterial soaps), alkylphenols (found in detergents), and PBDEs (flame retardants). While the amounts of these contaminants found were low, they were found throughout the Bay watershed.
Other contaminants of concern within our waters are things like caffeine, hormones, and other pharmaceutical chemicals that can disrupt endocrine functions in fish and amphibians and affect the health of millions of people. These drugs are showing up not only in surface waters, but also in the drinking water of major cities. This fact sheet from American Rivers provides interesting background on the subject.
Recently, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Pharmaceutical Stewardship Act (H.R. 2939) to establish a national pharmaceutical take back program. This program would be financed by manufacturers and would reduce the supply of unused and expired medications.
The Food and Drug Administration has a website that outlines safe ways to dispose of medication. Medication should not be flushed, and should either be taken to household hazardous waste collection or disposed of in the trash.