Sea Grant's Return Unwanted Medicines & Personal Care Products Education

According to an investigation in 2008 by the Associated Press, pharmaceuticals can be found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. The study also indicated that antibiotics, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones are among the drugs found in the drinking water supplies of at least 24 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

“Drugs and other synthetic chemicals are increasingly found in surface and groundwater sources, and can contaminate drinking water supplies and disrupt natural ecosystem processes," says New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske.

Another environmental threat to the Great Lakes is very, very small. Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes. More on these "microplastics" via

As for the history of Sea Grant's efforts related to proper disposal of unwanted medicines and personal care products, in April 2009, NYSG was part of a collaborative "Return Unwanted Medicines" take-back event on Long Island (click here). And, in Fall 2010, New York joined other Great Lakes Sea Grant programs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois and Indiana for a "Dose of Reality" education campaign targeted to keep chemicals out of our waterways (click here).

Resources for Returning Unwanted Medicines/Personal Care Products:


  • Fact Sheet: Undo the Environmental Chemical Brew (New York Sea Grant) (pdf)
    Keep Unwanted Medications & Chemicals Out of the Great Lakes

  • Dose of Reality Publication - Remedies to keep everyday chemicals out of waterways (Great Lakes Sea Grant Network) (pdf)

  • How to hold a successful pharmaceutical take-back event without outside funding (August 2009) (pdf)

  • "Don't Flush Pharmaceuticals" Educational Poster (Letter Size) (pdf)

  • Sensible Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (pdf, 1.7 MB; 52 pp.)
    A curriculum developed to help youth understand: (1) Why chemicals from medicines are found in the environment; (2) The harm these chemicals can cause; and (3) What can be done about it

  • The Medicine Chest (pdf, 15.4 MB, 257 pp.)
    A collection of safe disposal curriculum activities and service-learning resources

  • Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (pdf, 15.8 MB, 255 pp.)
    A resource for action in your community

Web Sites:

  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's National Takeback Initiative (click here)

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know (click here)

  • NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's "How Drugs Enter NYS Waters and Why DEC is Concerned" Web Site (click here)

  • NYS Department of Health: Medication Dropboxes by County (click here)

  • Safe Disposal of Unwanted Medicine (Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant) (click here)

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