Michigan officials try to stop pharmaceuticals from getting into water
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.
“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the current administrative rules are unclear as to whether Michigan pharmacies are able to take back unwanted and outdated medications.”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.