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E-M:/ Washtenaw Cty MI drug disposal program

Enviro-Mich message from "Ted Schettler" <tschettler@igc.org>

Are other counties, municipalities, pharmacies, or hospitals in Michigan addressing this problem?
Ted Schettler

County fosters safer disposal of drugs
Residents advised to take old medicine to certain pharmacies

Monday, October 20, 2008 BY ART AISNERThe Ann Arbor News

For decades, pharmacists and government officials recommended flushing
expired or unneeded prescription medications down the toilet. But that
practice is changing as more chemical compounds traced to medications are
appearing in waterways locally and around the country.

Washtenaw County has an aggressive prescription-drug disposal program that is
rapidly expanding, officials said.

Nine local pharmacies now have bins for customers to dispose of their excess
prescriptions as part of a joint environmental protection effort between
private businesses and multiple county departments. The county established a
Web site - www.dontflushdrugs.com - about the initiative that also features
guidelines for disposal and a 4-minute video.

"It's a great program because it helps keep our environment safer,'' said Dr.
Sahar Swidan, owner of Pharmacy Solutions in Scio Township. Pharmacy
Solutions has filled five large containers since the start of September.
"We've had to do some educating, but the scary stuff is that the medications
end up in the environment and in our drinking water.''

Flushing or washing medications down the drain was the easiest and once
thought to be the safest way to ensure excess pills wouldn't land in the
wrong hands.

Some federal agencies still recommend flushing prescription medication. But
there's evidence that the direct contact with waterways - and septic systems
ill-equipped to filter chemical compounds - leads to problems downstream.

The U.S. Geological Survey in 2002 reported 80 percent of sampled watersheds
nationally contained at least one pharmaceutical chemical; half of them
contained seven or more.

A 2004 study of the Huron River by the Ann Arbor Water Utilities Department
found that nearly half of the 22 targeted chemical compounds were in water
samples. The Huron River is the primary source of Ann Arbor's drinking water.
The compounds identified in the study included antibiotics, analgesics,
stimulants and steroids.

Few of those substances were found in treated drinking water. And there are
no studies about the impact to local residents' health. But city and county
officials fear that a prolonged contamination from pharmaceutical chemicals
could harm wildlife and the ecosystem.

"The cumulative effect of this continuing for years and years is an unknown
risk, but any risk at all is too much when there is an alternative
solution,'' said Jeff Krcmarik, supervisor of Washtenaw County's
environmental programs.

Instead of flushing, the county recommends sealing prescription bottles with
duct tape, wrapping them in multiple plastic bags and then disposing of them
in the trash.

Pharmacists can legally take back only certain medications and, at this
point, most do not. Municipalities and other organizations that sponsor
toxic-trash cleanup efforts don't accept the materials either, Krcmarik said.

A medical waste collection company has been hired to handle the drugs collected through the local program and incinerate them.

Both landfills and incinerators have their environmental drawbacks. However,
intense heat nullifies the dangerous compounds in drugs. And garbage dumps
are lined, and the waters that leach out are treated to remove harmful
chemicals, Krcmarik said.

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