Simple Steps Can Keep Public Water Supplies Drug-free
CHICAGO, Feb. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Across the nation, people believe prescription and over-the-counter drugs should be banned from U.S. wastewater systems. Judging by growing efforts, the day may be near. Anti-drug dumping laws are pending in a few states, and "take-back" centers have sprung up in 28 Illinois counties.
While formal efforts pick up steam, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois medical director Elif Oker, M.D., says everyone must be environmentally responsible. "There are guidelines from the FDA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy with consumer tips on how to properly and safely dispose of prescription drugs. Check with your local pharmacy or community drug take-back program."
"Also check package labels or inserts for the latest (safe disposal) instructions specific to a medication," says Oker, whose specialties include toxicology and emergency medicine. "Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the package label instructs you to do so. Take drugs out of their original containers. Mix with kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Put the mix into a sealable container. Make sure packaging doesn't have any personal identifiers."
Oker says traces of drugs and personal products contaminants that routinely turn up in public and private water supply studies is really one aspect of the management of medical waste. Traditionally, we think of hospitals, doctors' offices and research labs as main producers of medical waste. "Quoting the World Health Organization, 'Waste generated by health care activities includes a broad range of materials, from used needles and syringes to soiled dressings, body parts, diagnostic samples, blood, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and radioactive materials.'" Oker adds, "There is also the issue of containers and other non-biodegradables. Other challenges are pets and children getting into these medications when they are simply tossed in the trash. The key problem is we do not (yet) know the scope."
Striking a balance
Scientists and water supply officials walk a fine line between those seeking immediate action and others urging a "wait-and-see" approach since "drugs in water" studies don't find nearly enough chemicals to convince most experts humans face any threat today (though they do wonder about Potomac River male bass fish found carrying eggs. Might it be mutation due to discarded drugs?). Increasingly, they favor taking steps now, rather than facing unforeseen drug damage to people, plants and the earth later on.
One is Paul Ritter who teaches ecology at Pontiac (Ill.) Township High School. For several years, his students have led a program in which Pontiac residents drop off unused/outdated drugs at spots around town. Police stand by to ensure legal handling. "I know it's imperative that I give every ounce of my energy to this," says Ritter, often asked to lecture on Pontiac's safe drug disposal program. "When I see what young people do when given a goal, I never worry about the next generation." The Web site for Ritter's program is www.p2d2program.org (Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal). "We will help any community set up a p2d2 disposal plan."
The acorn fell close to the oak in Ritter's case; his mother Delores is as passionate about keeping drugs out of water supplies as son Paul and his Pontiac ecology classes. "I was a farm girl. I learned early on about chemical threats to water when my dad had to stop applying fertilizers and other crop chemicals because of the dangers," says the Peoria, Ill., resident. "So that's why every time I go to a drug store, I ask what they're doing to set up drug take-back centers. I urge others to do the same."
Susan Garrett is former chair of the Illinois Senate Public Health Committee. The Highwood legislator offered a bill to create a "cost-effective, efficient and environmentally responsible" take-back law for hospitals and like institutions. She thought she had all players aboard, but then came the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA fears controlled substances (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, e.g.) might be easy for drug abusers to find at take-back sites. So while the DEA comes up with nationwide drug take-back procedures it considers ironclad, Garrett's bill waits.
Measuring the problem
Illinois EPA and Public Health Department toxicologists reported in June 2008 they sampled for water impurities over four days in March in Chicago, Elgin, Aurora, Rock Island and the Illinois American Water Co.'s East St. Louis facility. Their conclusion: "This project identified 16 pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in the untreated or potable water of five public water supplies in Illinois ... found not to present a public health hazard at this time. However, there are also considerable uncertainties suggesting further sampling is appropriate."
At the same time, a unit of the state's Department of Natural Resources ran a symposium on the status of PPCPs research in Illinois. Most presentations by university chemists and biologists, Illinois American Water Co., Waste Management, water districts, the U.S. and state EPAs, and the Illinois State Water Survey are at www.istc.illinois.edu. The symposium report urges Illinois to create a working group to coordinate water safety research and be the recipient of state and federal dollars that may be budgeted.
With some 7 million members, BCBSIL, which is operated by Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, is the largest health insurance company in Illinois. Started in 1936, BCBSIL is committed to promoting the health and wellness of its members and its communities through accessible, cost-effective, quality health care. BCBSIL is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
SOURCE Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois