There's a better way of disposing of your outdated drugs

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Looked in the medicine cabinet lately?

If you are like most of us, it could probably use some cleaning out. Experts warn that the efficacy of drugs declines after they are older than their listed shelf life and they begin to break down.

So flush them down the toilet, right?

Not so fast.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found chemicals such as steroids, nonprescription drugs and insect repellents in 80 percent of streams and 93 percent of groundwater sampled.

One Nebraska community is already doing something about it. The Scottsbluff-Gering area plans the state's first pharmaceutical take-back event on May 19.

"This event will help make people aware of how important water is, and that they do have an alternative to flushing or pouring these products down a drain," said organizer Kathy Kropuenske. She presented the seminar, "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water: Potential Risks and Best Practices" to a Groundwater Foundation gathering in Lincoln last month.

Talk of contaminated groundwater should get the attention of anyone who uses McCook city water, paying for a $14.4 million water treatment plant in the process.

We don't know if the state-of-the-art plant will remove pharmaceuticals as well as it removes nitrates, uranium and arsenic, but there are plenty to worry about.

Among them are antibiotics. About 40 percent of U.S. produced antibiotics are fed to animals as growth enhancers, and manure containing trace amounts is spread on land where it can wash off into surface water and percolate into ground water. Scientists are concerned such trace amounts of antibiotics can help create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Other substances of concern include nitro musks used as a fragrance in many cosmetics, sun screen agents, the cholesterol-lowering drug clofibric acid, lipid-regulating drugs phenazone and fenofibrate, analgesics such as ibuprofen and diclofenac, chemotherapy drugs, aspirin, caffeine and nicotine, antiseptics, beta-blocker heart drugs, seizure-control drugs, antidepressants and hormones.

While the levels detected are far below that which is thought to affect humans, the amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products that enter the environment is roughly equal to the amount of pesticides used each year.

But antidepressants, for example, have been blamed for altering sperm levels and spawning patterns in marine life. And, recent British research suggests that human estrogen is primarily responsible for deforming the reproductive systems of fish, finding that the blood plasma from male trout living below sewage treatment plants had a female egg protein.

Fortunately for McCook residents, it's easy to properly dispose of outdated or unwanted medications, as well as many other types of hazardous materials.

The Red Willow County Hazardous Waste facility at 108 W. Railroad Service Road, south and east of the Federal Avenue underpass in McCook, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information is available at (308) 345-4333.

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