Improper Disposal of Prescription Drugs Causes Pollution

6 years 10 months 4 weeks ago Wednesday, May 08 2013 May 8, 2013 Wednesday, May 08, 2013 10:05:00 AM CDT May 08, 2013 in News
By: Taylor Barth

COLUMBIA - Flushing prescription drugs down the toilet may seem harmless, but that's simply not the case. Chemicals from pills make their way through the water system unfiltered and eventually end up in local creeks, rivers and lakes. 

Mike Heimos, stormwater educator for the City of Columbia Public Works Department, said the water treatment plants are not designed to filter chemicals from prescription drugs. 

"The waste water treatment plants are set up to treat human pollutants, and you're talking about putting those extra chemicals that don't get treated into that water," said Heimos.

According to the 2012 Water Quality Report by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, "Individual onsite wastewater disposal practices pose threats to surface water and groundwater quality."

The Youth Community Coalition and the Boone County Sheriff's Department hope to stop pollution and educate the community about the effects of flushing old and unused drugs. Prescription Drug Take Back events are held periodically throughout the year to allow locals to properly dispose of medications.

Stephen Gaither is the public affairs officer at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran's Hospital. The hospital serves as a drug drop-off site during Prescription Drug Take Back events. He said turning in old prescription drugs is an important role as a member of the community.

"The most common improper disposal [of prescription drugs] is to put them in the trash or down into the sewer system, so it pollutes our water," said Gaither. "If it gets into the trash it goes into our landfill and it has the potential to have an averse effect on our environment." 

But the pollution can also affect humans. The last United States Geological Survey from 2002 found that 80% of U.S. streams contain small amounts of human medicine. 

"If you have something at your house that you need to get rid of, the first question you need to ask yourself is 'At some point in the future do I want to swim in this, drink it, or eat it?'" said Heimos. 

Deputy sheriff of the Boone County Sheriff's Department, Tony Perkins, said he thinks the community has become more aware of this issue. 

"I think the community really wants this," Perkins said. "They really want to save our water system, and they really want to save our environment."

The collection number at the latest Prescription Drug Take Back event demonstrates the community's efforts to improve. The Boone County Sheriff's Department reported that it collected over 648 pounds of prescription drugs, which is 139 more pounds than previous collected amounts.

You can find ways to properly dispose of prescription drugs at the Youth Community Coalition and the City of Columbia's websites. 

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