At least one veteran nurse at SF General is sounding the alarm bell about a recent policy change at the hospital pushed by the Drug Enforcement Administration that has all leftover pills and controlled substances — and there are a lot — being flushed down toilets, which will result in the chemicals ultimately reaching the San Francisco Bay.

As San Francisco Magazine is reporting, hospital staff had previously been disposing of excess medications into sealed "blue/white bins" which were kept under nurses' watchful eyes and ultimately incinerated. This system is apparently unacceptable to the DEA, and in 2014 issued a letter to the hospital insisting that all heavy narcotics and controlled substances like OxyContin, fentanyl, and Adderall instead be separated out and flushed, while all other medications not on their list could be disposed of in the usual way, in the bins.

The odd part is that the SF Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has apparently OK'd this practice, which will ultimately bring trace amounts of these narcotics into our local waters, even moreso than are already there.

It should be noted that just a few years ago the PUC was promoting events like the Big Blue Bucket Eco Fair where people were encouraged to bring their medicine cabinets full of old pills for safe disposal.

This recent study published in The Sustainability Review using the SF Bay as an example, concludes that most effluent concentrations of various drugs — much of which come form normal human urinary excretion — are not harmful to fish or humans. However, scientists are concerned about these "legacy pollutants of tomorrow," and the report notes that "toxicity thresholds for many of the measured compounds are not established." Also, the report did not look at narcotics specifically.

Apparently the nurses' union, SEIU Local 1021, is meeting with the hospital about the new rules this week, and nurse Aaron Cramer told SF Mag that he doesn't get why the old system wasn't perfectly secure. "To think someone would steal [pills] in public view of the whole department? It’s completely ridiculous," he says, adding that the disgusting mass of syringes and mixed substances in those bins is not something that anyone would easily be able to sort through.

Update: The PUC reached out to SF Mag following their story to say, actually, "the PUC chemist who greenlit San Francisco General Hospital's 'sewering' of drugs did so erroneously. [And] Flushing drugs down the toilet, in fact, contravenes city policy." They now say the hospital will be forced to stop doing this, against the DEA's order.

Related: Counterfeit Xanax Has Now Killed At Least Three People In SF