Michigan officials try to stop pharmaceuticals from getting into water

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By Xinjuan Deng

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will distribute $250,000 in grants to help communities properly dispose of household drugs.

Pharmaceuticals can contaminate water and Michigan officials are funding programs to prevent that. Photo: higlu (Flickr)

“This is the first time the fund has been specifically targeted at household drug collection,” said Chad Rogers, an environmental quality analyst with the department.

The grant comes from a pollution prevention program.

Most Michigan water treatment plants and septic systems are not equipped to remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater, so proper collection and disposal are important to prevent them from contaminating the surface and ground water, according to the department.

“There are more than 80,000 compounds in pharmaceuticals on the market today, and most of them cannot be removed through conventional wastewater treatment plants,” said Dave Oostindie, environmental service supervisor for the city of Wyoming, Mich.

Wyoming started the first ongoing unused drugs collection program in the state and partnered with surrounding municipalities to expand it around west Michigan.

In a recent report, “Treatment Plant Data and Lake Michigan,” Wyoming sampled drinking water from a plant in Holland, Mich. The results showed tiny amount of drugs.

Testing detected from 17 to 45 of the top 100 compounds, Oostindie said.

“The DEQ grant is a great step towards getting more communities involved and at the same time getting the educational message to the consumers,” Oostindie said.

No study has detected large-scale contamination from unused drug disposal in Michigan.

According to a report from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, pharmaceutical contamination has a negative impact on the aquatic ecosystem, including fish, birds, and other wildlife. The risk to humans is unknown so more study is needed, according to the report.

Not all pharmacies accept unused drugs.

“Unfortunately, the current administrative rules are unclear as to whether Michigan pharmacies are able to take back unwanted and outdated medications.” said Larry Wagenknecht, chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association. The group represents nearly 10,000 pharmacists and 15,000 pharmacy technicians.

Kerrin O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, said another reason is “the cost to store, transport and properly dispose of drugs.” The coalition represents recycling and composting interests.

Wagenknecht and O’Brien said strict rules regulate where collections can occur and how waste is disposed of.

“The best way to dispose of pharmaceuticals at this point is incineration at a proper facility,” O’Brien said. “There are three in Michigan.”

Chris Angel, director of the Yellow Jug Old Drugs Program in Barton City, Mich.,  said his organization is considering applying for the new grant.

“It will be beneficial for us to be able to translate our materials into other languages,” Angel said. “That will be helpful because there are diverse populations in the area.”

Yellow Jug Old Drugs Program collects unused drugs from cooperating pharmacies. Great Lakes Clean Water Organization coordinates it.

Angel said his organization’s challenge is that “when the grants end, the programs end,” and that damages environmental progress.

“Traditionally, people have been told to flush their unused medication down the toilet,” Rogers said. “But water treatment plants and septic systems are rarely able to remove pharmaceuticals from the wastewater, which results in trace amounts being released to the environment.”

Angel said educating people and providing easy disposal options is the most important thing in solving the unused drug problem.


6 thoughts on “Michigan officials try to stop pharmaceuticals from getting into water

  1. Google this and you’ll find options for unused drugs:

    where to take unused prescriptions + michigan

    The state police have an annual drop-off day. There are programs through senior centers. The Royal Oak police used to take old meds and probably still do. You don’t have to be from RO.


  2. How valid are the extraction methods do they account for total chemical residues (residues meaning parent, degradates and bound) is there a material balance study?

    A. Chemical extraction methods not determinative methods.
    1. How where extraction methods validated?
    2. Where the extraction methods peered reviewed?
    3. What where the peer review comments?
    4. What is the percent error of the extraction procedures?
    5. Has a material balance for extraction of analytes been discerned over different time frames up to at least six months?
    6. How much of the analyte is bound to the matrix extracted?
    B. Validation of methods.
    Are chemical extraction methods valid?

    Are chemical extraction methods valid to extract chemicals from water with suspended sediment, soil, sediment, sewage sludge, plants and animals? These methods may be solid waste (SW) methods or pesticide methods used to extract chemicals and degradation products from soil, sediment, sewage sludge, plants and animals. Do the methods extract residues that have a high Koc (organic carbon partition coefficient) value in soil or a high Kow (octanol water partition coefficient) value in fat tissue? If you want to know these values read my book Fate and Transport of Organic Chemicals in the Environment (third edition). Bottom line answer is almost all the methods have not been validated. Fortifying a matrix and extracting does not prove that an extraction procedure will work for chemicals aged in the matrix over time (i.e. 30, 60 & 120 days).

    By validation, I mean using procedures like those that I wrote in 40 CFR § 158:290 and § 158.1300 Subpart N, which FIFRA requires by aging of pesticides in soil to discern bound residues, extraction of parent and degradates and analytical efficiency. These data requirements were started in the USDA around 1967 because radiotracer studies for petition for tolerances indicated pesticide residues were not being totally extracted and where showing up in crops (rotational crops) when they shouldn’t have been. This does not mean that those residues determined by other methods were incorrect. Please remember that residues under FIFRA include parent and degradation products.
    – It means that the total amount or residues extracted is questionable and that there may have been a lot more not extracted.
    – It means that many other chemicals may not been have been extracted and thus not determined.
    – It means that there may be chemical residues not extracted, which could be available for plant and animal uptake.
    – It means that a hazard assessment cannot be accurate without knowing total exposure via inhalation, absorption and ingestion of total residues (extractable and un-extractable).

    Here are examples of some questions that I have asked concerning residues in sediment, plants, sewage sludge, water, etc.
    1. Do the extraction procedures/methods extract residues bound in the organic matter of soil or sediment?
    2. Do the extraction procedures/methods extract residues bound in fat in animals?
    3. Do the extraction procedures/methods provide a material balance for residues in each of the following matrices soil, plants and animals, that is total residues of parent, degradates, and bound (non-extractable residues) residues?
    4. Where radiotracer methods used to obtain data as question in three above?

    So what could all this mean?
    1. It could mean that all the residues (parent and degradates) are not determined in the food we eat.
    2. It could mean that all the residues (parent and degradates) are not determined in soil, animals, sediment, and sewage sludge and residues are much higher in environmental matrixes than extracted and determined.
    3. It means that exposure may be greater than expected.
    Many may say exposure to chemicals and/or biologicals in consumer products, in the environment, etc. is so small there is little chance of risk. While this may be true in many cases, safety cannot be judged on one chemical or one biological alone. Humans and other animals are a mixture of chemicals and biologicals, and we take in hundreds of different chemicals and biologicals a year. How safe are these chemicals and degradates (pesticides, hormones, metals, etc.) and biologicals when the aggregate, synergistic, antagonistic, co-metabolism and co-biometabolism effects are never mentioned or studied to any extent, if at all and, they are not used in risk assessments? In other words, the total picture is never known or considered for hazards to adults, child endangerment and environmental safety when it should be required.

  3. Because of the HUGE variety of drugs consumed, and potentially WIDE variety of technologies/methods needed to cleanse @ WWTP ; AND the fact that the bulk of medications are adsorbed in the body – the major issue is the dumping of drugs no longer used (when Dr changes prescription) – either into land fill or flushed down the toilet. Both can potentially reach aquifers and/or surface water systems.

  4. I agree with Mary! It has been stated by big Pharma themselves, that 80% of the mendiations we ingest are excreted from our bodies. Waste water treatment should be given the grant monies to invest in better filtration and Product Stewardship efforts should focus attention to waste water treatment vs. medication drop offs.

  5. Guys, it’s not excess drugs that are entering the water supply: it’s the ones that people are TAKING every day. Wastewater treatment simply must invest in the filtration technology necessary to remove pharmaceuticals like estrogen before treated water is released.

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