Cuomo settles with five health care facilities

Nick Rees Jan. 12, 2010, 2:21pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - Settlements with five health care facilities in the New York City Watershed to immediately end the disposal of pharmaceutical waste into the watershed have been announced by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The almost 2,000-square-mile watershed drains into reservoirs and lakes that then provide 8 million New York City residents and 1 million people living in Westchester, Putnam, Ulster and Orange counties with drinking water.

All five of the facilities -- O'Connor Hospital, located in Delhi, Delaware County; Margaretville Memorial Hospital, located in Margaretville; Mountainside Residential Care Center, a nursing home located in Margaretville; Countryside Care Center, a nursing home located in Delhi; and Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home located in Holmes -- are located in Delaware and Putnam counties. All five facilities cooperated with Cuomo's investigation.

A 2008 study by the New York State Department of Health and School of Public Health, SUNY Albany, found low levels of antibiotics, heart medications, pain killers, mood stabilizers and hormones in wastewaters and waterways within the New York City Watershed.

"The 9 million people who get their water from the New York City Watershed enjoy some of the cleanest, safest and best water in the world," Cuomo said.

"We need to make sure it stays that way. These ground-breaking settlements provide a new model to implement immediate and sensible precautions to keep waste drugs out of the drinking water supply."

An investigation by Cuomo's office into the pharmaceutical waste management practices of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living homes in the watershed led to the settlements, which are the first ever to require sources of pharmaceutical releases to end their risky disposal practices.

The disposal practices include flushing unused pharmaceuticals including painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, hormones and other waste drugs into the watershed. Only trace amounts of of pharmaceuticals have been found in the New York City water supply to date.

The facilities were also found to be in violation of various provisions of the federal waste management law, state regulations and, in some instances, the federal Clean Water Act stemming from their handling of pharmaceutical wastes and other wastes.

Each of the five healthcare facilities is required by the settlements to immediately cease discharges of pharmaceutical waste into New York City's watershed. The waste must instead by sent to waste management facilities capable of safely treating pharmaceuticals.

Civil penalties for past violations of law and costs incurred by the state during the investigation must also be paid by the facilities.

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