Prescription Drugs in Drinking Water

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

Germs on a water fountain are no surprise, but what about drugs in the water?

"Most meds when they are taken are not completely absorbed by the body, they pass through unchanged," said Ron Melaragni, Adminstrative Director for Sparrow Pharmacy Plus. "They get into the water supply and cause pollution, even if it's minor."

In addition, there's the commonly held belief that people are supposed to flush leftover prescriptions down the toilet. Over the years that practice has taken its toll on wildlife, including fish with three eyes and two sets of reproductive organs, according to some studies.

"There is a lot of evidence that speaks to the residuals being in the receiving waters of the United States and the local community here," said Chad Gamble, Director of Public Service for the City of Lansing. "Now they're at very, very low levels, but we want to be on the front end of that. We want to be able to protect the environment."

Gamble said most waste water treatment facilities, including Lansing's, can't remove every leftover drug particle. That makes initiatives like the third annual Medication Disposal Event at the Capitol on Tuesday especially important.

"It's a source control issue, which is inviting people to take a little bit more time out of their day to dispose of their drugs when they're done using them in a safe and efficient manner," Gamble said.

This year more than 579 pounds of unwanted or expired medication was collected, which amounts to about $1 million worth.

At this point, experts say the flushing method hasn't made drinking water dangerous for humans yet.

"But if this process continues, who knows what could happen," Melaragni said. "So, it's important to do it the right way, so it doesn't get in the water supply."

If you missed the Capitol's disposal event, there is a national one happening Sept. 29. There's also a new kit on the market that will soon be on pharmacy shelves for use in the home. It's just a little black plastic bag filled with a substance when mixed with warm water, neutralizes prescriptions - up to 45 pills or 6 ounces of liquid medicine can fit in it. Once it's mixed, you seal it, and throw it in the trash.

Pharmacisits also recommend using kitty litter or coffee grounds in a container with the prescriptions and dispose of them that way.

The Ingham County Sheriff's Office recently added a bin in their lobby where anyone can drop off old pills free of charge during normal business hours.


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