Program reduces flow of drugs into Great Lakes waters

Project Summary: Sea Grant programs in five Great Lakes states worked with law enforcement agencies to reduce the quantity of prescription medications that are washed down sinks and toilets, thereby reducing the risk of biologically active compounds in drugs contaminating lakes, rivers and drinking water sources.

Project name: Undo the Great Lakes Chemical Brew.

Location: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio.

New York Sea Grant developed this flier to educate people about the dangers of washing medications down sinks and toilets.

Description: Researchers have found pharmaceuticals — including painkillers, hormones and anti-depressants — in a majority of U.S. surface waters that have been tested, including the Great Lakes and its  tributaries. Improper disposal of pharmaceutical and personal care products, known as PPCPs, is a problem because many of the chemical compounds in those products pass through wastewater treatment systems. Those compounds can affect water quality and harm fish and wildlife. Scientists have already found freshwater fish with both male and female sexual characteristics in streams and rivers across the U.S. and in the Great Lakes. Low levels of painkillers and antidepressants have been detected in drinking water supplies across the Great Lakes basin. Sources of PPCPs include personal medications, illicit drug use, veterinary drugs, agribusiness, pharmaceutical manufacturing and residues from hospitals.

Approximate cost of project: $530,759, which the Great Lakes

Prescription drugs, like these, need to be disposed of properly or they will end up in the Great Lakes. Photo from Flickr/bradleypjohnson.

Prescription drugs, like these, need to be disposed of properly or they will end up in the Great Lakes. Photo from Flickr/bradleypjohnson.

Restoration Initiative awarded to the Sea Grant programs in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio.

Resource challenges addressed: Contamination of surface waters and drinking water sources due to improper disposal of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs).

Key partners (public and private): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey and Sea Grant programs in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio.

Types of jobs created: Laboratory technicians, law enforcement personnel, chemists, communications specialists.

Results and accomplishments: More than 2 million pills were collected at drug drop-off events in the five states. On one day in October 2011, officials in Lorain County, Ohio, collected 1,300 pounds of pharmaceutical and personal care products. The Sea Grant programs also distributed information about improper disposal of PPCPs to more than 700,000 residents in the Great Lakes region.

Web site: http://seagrant.psu.edu/publications/fs/undo_chemical_brew.pdf

Originally Published: September 27, 2012