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Got Drugs? Make the Connection!

2012 September 26

By Kelly Dulka

This Saturday, September 29th, is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.  What does this have to do with the environment you ask? Well, let me tell you about a discussion I had with some friends last week.

I live in a little, rural community that happens to be a peninsula surrounded by water.  I was mentioning to a couple of my friends who have a waterfront home about the take-back day coming up.  I was surprised to hear them say that they just flush their expired prescription meds.  The homes in our little community rely on wells for our water and septic tanks/fields for waste disposal.  I explained to them how whatever we flush passes through our septic fields, into the ground, and will very likely end up in our rivers.

Prescription medications fall under the category of pharmaceuticals and personal care product pollutants (PPCPs). Even in other, less rural communities there are no municipal water treatment plants equipped to remove PPCPs from water.

So what’s the big deal? Although we aren’t exactly certain yet what the effects of these pollutants are, one thing is for sure, it can’t be helping the aquatic wildlife and ecosystems, many of which are struggling even without this additional burden.

I know my friends love the river; and enjoy both the recreational fun, and the fish and seafood it provides for us. Sometimes I think people do things because that’s the way they’ve always done things. It’s important for all of us to learn about the issue, and make the connection between our actions and the consequences on our environment.

So in the next few days, gather up those old, expired prescription medications, and on Saturday take them to a drop off center near you for proper disposal.

About the author: Kelly Dulka works in the Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Andrew B. permalink
    September 26, 2012

    With a growing pharmaceutical industry, people are taking more and more over the counter and prescription drugs each year. Although this may not seem to have a connection to the environment, there is indeed a reason to be concerned. For one, drugs can enter our waterways by people flushing old pills down the toilet as the article above mentions. However, there are other ways that drugs can get into our water. When we take drugs “many medications can pass through our bodies and waste treatment facilities virtually intact” (Yale Environment 360). They eventually enter our lakes, rivers, and streams and contaminate the water. According to an article in Yale Environment 360, 80% of US streams and nearly 25% of US groundwater has been found to be contaminated by a plethora of pharmaceuticals. The harm this can cause to both the environment and humans’ health is significant. In India, farmers started dosing their cows with diclofenac, an arthritis drug, to prevent inflammation that could hinder milk production. When the cows died, their remains were sent to dumps, where their carcasses were picked clean by the South Asian Vulture. Soon, the once thriving vulture population was severely declining, more than 40% per year. Now, about 95% of the species in India is dead due to the diclofenac that was present in the cows’ bodies. In addition to the organisms that are at risk due to drugs in the environment, impacts on human health are also likely. Many scientists think that the presence of antibiotics in our water and environment “may be hastening the emergence of difficult-to-control antibiotic-resistant pathogens” (Yale Environment 360).

    I agree with the post above, that even though we may not know the full extent that drugs are having on our environment, it can’t be good. As the article points out, “it’s important for all of us to learn about the issue, and make the connection between our actions and the consequences on our environment.” Participating in drug take back days is a good way to ensure that your old medications don’t enter our environment and cause harm to humans and other organisms. Without a complete knowledge on the full effects of pharmaceuticals in our environment, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. Hopefully in the coming years, the drug industry will come around to the idea of “green” drugs that are “benign by design” (Yale Environment 360) and have no or limited impact on our fragile ecosystems.

  2. Enviro Equipment, Inc. permalink
    September 27, 2012

    The thought of eating fish that’s been eating pharmaceuticals makes me want to become a vegetarian!

    Seriously, your post is making me question where I buy my seafood from. If it’s local (where we don’t treat the wastewater at a treatment plant) I’m going to stick with chicken or beef for dinner.

  3. wade permalink
    September 28, 2012

    As a cattle farmer, and mechanical engineer, I like the last respondant’s reply to eat more BEEF. I agree that there is a potential problem with such disposal of all our drugs, just as there has to be potential health problems with the “drugs” used by our meat industry to induce fast growth, healthy animals, etc. Back to the initial recommendation about returning our drugs for proper disposal, how do we know that such is happening. I bet there are pharamical companies that send their waste to local municipal waste water treatment plants. I know of one which does.

  4. permalink
    September 2, 2013

    Agree with this statement.

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