Program reduces flow of drugs

into Great Lakes waters

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.


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.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Contamination of surface waters and drinking water sources
  • Improper disposal of pharmaceutical and personal care products


Prescription medications being collected for disposal

Prescription medications need to be disposed of properly, otherwise they often end up in waterways as pollution. Credit: Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.

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.