Grand County residents should prevent drugs from polluting our environment
March 5, 2008
To the Editor:
I have recently been reading articles that made me think I could do something as simple as writing a letter to the editor to help improve water quality for all living organisms in our region.
Your readers may have heard that pharmaceuticals that do not degrade are a form of environmental pollution. In this month’s “Chemical and Engineering News,” Bethany Halford writes about the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment.
She discusses how in one study trace concentrations in lake water equal to those sometimes found in sewage treatment effluent of 17a-ethinylestradiol, a compound in synthetic birth control pills, caused feminization of male fathead minnows (not a species native to Grand County) in Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area, to the point that within a year the minnow populations could no longer reproduce and declined precipitously. This in turn hurt the population of lake trout (something near and dear to many of our hearts), which feed on the smaller fish. After elimination of the drug, minnow populations recovered within three years.
In another article researchers Edward Furlong of the U.S. Geological Survey and Chad Kinney of Colorado State University in Pueblo and their associates are discovering trace amounts of other drugs such as antibiotics in earthworms (a food source for many other living creatures) where treated sewage sludge is applied.
These are just two examples of the ways pharmaceuticals could be manifesting in our environment.
It used to be that when your prescription drugs and other medications were no longer wanted, pharmacists recommended that the excess be flushed down the toilet. Some pharmacies are now instituting “take-back” programs where unwanted medications are collected for incineration. We in Grand County do not have access to such a program at this point in time, so the next best option is to thoroughly mix (this may mean crushing tablets and opening capsules) your unwanted pharmaceuticals with kitty litter or more readily available coffee grounds, place the mixture in an impermeable container such as a sealable plastic bag, and then dispose of them in the trash.