Pathogens

Flush or Drain, Will Cause a Strain

Drug Takeback Day

By Trey Cody

Do you, like many other Americans, look into your medicine cabinet and see bottles of unused prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs? Being in the bathroom with a sink and toilet readily available, your first thought may be to simply flush or dispose of them down the drain. Yes, pills are water soluble, but this solution may have negative outcomes.

When flushed and drained, it’s possible for pharmaceuticals to get into our streams, rivers and lakes.  This is because drugs, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids are not always removed completely at waste water treatment facilities. Continued exposure to low levels of pharmaceuticals in our water systems may alter the behavior and physiology of the fish and other aquatic organisms who call it home.  EPA has been working with other federal agencies and state and local government partners to better understand the implications low levels of pharmaceuticals in water, the potential effects on aquatic organisms and if there is an impact on human health.

Though flushing and draining is not the only way pharmaceuticals enter our wastewater, it’s one we can do something about.

April 28, 2012 is the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration.  During this time you can drop off your unwanted drugs at many participating municipal locations, where they will be disposed of safely and properly.  The last event collected over 188.5 tons of unwanted or expired medications at the 5,327 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states.

But you don’t have to wait until April to dispose of your old meds. You can contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to find if there are drop off locations in your area.  If all else fails, you can dispose of drugs in your household trash by following a few simple steps.

How do you dispose of your unwanted pharmaceuticals? Have you participated in any take back programs?  Do you have any suggestions of how to improve programs like these?  Let us know!

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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Watts up? Bring ‘em down

To learn more, click here to register for a  June 16, 2011 webinar that starts 2:00pm http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_internet_presentations.  Click on “View live web conference schedule…”   In the search tool, type “wastewater.”

EPA is offering your town a way to save money on energy costs.

Energy use at wastewater treatment plants (WWTP’s) and drinking water treatment plants (DWTP’s) contribute significantly to municipalities’ total electric bill.  These critical utilities operate large motors that run pumps and blowers used for treating and conveying water and wastewater 24/7.  These facilities offer opportunities for cost-effective operational changes and investments in energy-efficient technologies.

The first step to energy and cost savings is to benchmark current energy usage.  A free and easy way is for towns to use EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.  This online tool allows managers of WWTP’s and DWTP’s to track energy usage, energy costs and associated carbon emissions and to compare energy usage with comparable plants.

The tool is also helpful in identifying efficiency opportunities within a facility. 

Towns will have an opportunity to learn more during a June 16 webinar.

Encourage your town to participate.  It’s free and it could lead to big savings.

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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Do some RECON with BEACON!

Click here to visit the EPA Beach Advisory and Closing website!The days are longer, the weather is warmer and Memorial Day is right around the corner. Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff for beach season for millions of Americans. Whether you are going to your family’s traditional beach or making a first time visit to a more exotic locale, it is important to understand and learn about the beach you are visiting.

The EPA has a program called BEACH. The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Program focuses on improving public health and environmental protection for beach goers and providing the public with information about the quality of their beach water.

You can visit the BEACH program by clicking here.

The EPA also has a tool called BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing On-Line Notification). Users can use BEACON to find beaches and learn more information about the beach. You can find beach closing notices, water quality data and even a map showing where the beach is. There are also state contacts listed with names of people that have more information. Click on the state below to begin researching the beach you frequent to cool off!

Delaware

Maryland

Virginia

Pennsylvania

How can you protect the beach while you are feeling the soft sand between your toes? Here are some eco-friendly reminders and ways to stay healthy at the beach!

  • Use walkovers instead of walking across the sensitive dunes; this will help reduce erosion.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle the things you take to the beach – don’t leave them there
  • Throw away your trash and pet waste — use public trash containers at the beach or take it home with you.
  • Use public restrooms.
  • Pick up trash.
  • Cut the rings off plastic six-pack holders so that animals (like fish, turtles or seals) can’t get tangled in them — leave no solid plastic loops.
  • Join local beach, river or stream clean ups.
  • Dispose of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities instead of dumping it into the water.
  • Don’t disturb wildlife and plants – you’re visiting their home.
  • While you are at the beach, wash or sanitize your hands before eating.

What beaches do you enjoy visiting? What concerns you most about the beaches you visit? Share your thoughts and ideas below on our comments page!

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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Plant a Tree, Save a River!

Riparian Buffer in an agricultural areaBy Christina Catanese

Since this is the Healthy Waters Blog, you might be wondering why we’re concerned about forests.  But unlike Vegas, what happens on the land doesn’t stay on the land – it affects streams and rivers, especially if the land is right next to the water.  It turns out that having forests right next to waterways (as opposed to developed or tilled agricultural land) is highly beneficial to water quality, ecosystems, and humans.  These vegetated strips of land are often referred to as “riparian buffers.”

I have always been astounded at the amazing power of trees and plants to provide so many benefits to our environment and communities.  Forested stream banks act like a sponge, filtering out excessive nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants that run off from the land that would be damaging if they entered a stream.  Shrubs and trees are also able to prevent stream bank erosion by anchoring the soils, keeping the banks stable and excess sediment out of the stream.  Buffers can even help mitigate flooding by absorbing and slowing down surface runoff.

Forested streams also provide enhanced habitat for wildlife.  Leaves, twigs, and other natural plant litter that fall into the stream provide food and habitat for organisms in the water, and the corridors of natural vegetation along stream banks allow land-based mammals and birds to thrive.

Riparian forest buffers also aid greatly in maintaining cool stream temperatures.  You know how much better it feels to stand in the shade of a tree on a hot day rather than out in the hot sun?  Well, stream organisms prefer their streams to be shaded as well.  Studies have shown that removing the canopy can cause the stream’s temperature to rise by as much as 15 degrees.  Warmer streams can’t carry as much dissolved oxygen, and some organisms can’t survive in these conditions.

That’s all nice for the fish, but what about people?  Riparian buffers also benefit human communities.  Wouldn’t you rather fish and swim in a healthy, forested, shady stream?  I know I would.  Forested streams stimulate local economies by enhancing fisheries and recreational opportunities.  The presence of riparian buffers can also result in higher property values in communities and add aesthetic value.  The water quality improvements from buffers also enhance the quality of our drinking water, so by preserving forests, we actually protect our water supply.The Delaware River Basin, for example, provides high quality drinking water to nearly 15 million people from New York to Delaware, largely because of the mature forest canopy that has been maintained upstream.  Preserving forests in the headwaters contributes to water quality both upstream and downstream water quality.  Another plus: buffer preservation and restoration are pretty cost-effective strategies for managing nonpoint source pollution.

Seems almost common sense given all the benefits, doesn’t it?  But there can be obstacles to implementation, like funding, competing land-use practices, political will, or lack of awareness of the benefits.  EPA encourages buffers as a best management practice through its Nonpoint Source Program,with tools and resources to incorporate buffer restoration in regional planning.

Reforesting streams in the Chesapeake Bay is also an important strategy for the basin’s nutrient pollution diet.  Learn how the Bay program and the basin states are working to restore 10,000 miles of riparian forest in the Bay’s watershed, and see how the states have incorporated riparian reforestation into their Watershed Implementation Plans. Watch a video by the Chesapeake Bay Program Office to hear more about how forests and the Chesapeake Bay are related, and what makes a forest healthy.

What do you think about forested versus unforested streams?  Have you noticed if streams and rivers in your area have trees or not?  Do you know of any initiatives to create and preserve riparian buffers?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Poo Power – Generating Electricity from Waste

Methane gas is produced naturally in the manure of cattle and Pennsylvania’s Blair and Bedford Counties will soon be using manure from 6800 cows to generate 2.5 megawatts of electricity each day. They will harness their manure’s methane using a new regional digester, a facility that houses and processes manure, storing the methane that’s produced. This digester facility will not only help the Clover Creek Watershed manage its nitrate problems; it will also help manage the 380,000 gallons of liquid manure generated every day in the area, and create a bedding or soil product available for resale. Finding more opportunities like this one throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is on EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region’s todo list.

Would you purchase fertilizer from a process like this or one that came from a more traditional process?

Here’s another example from Rockwell, PA where farmers are saving the environment and money with these new ideas.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.