New grants designed to support safe disposal of drugs

February 20, 2012
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LANSING — The Department of Environmental Quality will distribute $250,000 in grants to help communities properly dispose of household drugs.

Chad Rogers, a DEQ environmental quality analyst, said, “This is the first time the fund has been specifically targeted at household drug collection.”

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 DEQ.

Dave Oostindie, environmental service supervisor for the city of Wyoming, said, “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.”

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. The results showed tiny amounts of drugs.

Testing detected from 17 to 45 of the top 100 compounds, Oostindie said.

“The DEQ grant is a great step toward getting more communities involved and, at the same time, getting the educational message to the consumers,” he said.

No study has detected large-scale contamination from unused drug disposal in Michigan.

According to a report from the 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, it said.

One solution might be for pharmacies to accept unused drugs, but not all of them do so.

“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the current administrative rules are unclear as to whether Michigan pharmacies are able to take back unwanted and outdated medications,” said Larry Wagenknecht, chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.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, said his organization is considering applying for the DEQ grant.

“It will be beneficial for us to be able to translate our materials into other languages. 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, 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,” said Rogers of the DEQ.

Angel said educating people and providing easy disposal options are the most important issues in solving the unused drug problem.

DEQ will accept requests for funding until March 30.

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