CHICAGO, Illinois, November 11, 2008 (ENS) - To keep expired and unused prescription drugs out of the Chicago water supply, city, state and federal governments are cooperating to provide a new permanent, convenient way for people to discard them without flushing them down the drain.
Drop boxes are now located at five Chicago Police Department Area Centers. From there, the pharmaceuticals will be packaged and sent to a state-authorized incinerator for destruction. The collection of the pharmaceuticals is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the disposal is funded by Illinois EPA.
"Many people may not be aware that improperly disposing of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, such as flushing them down the toilet, contributes to pharmaceuticals found in our waterways," said Mayor Richard Daley, announcing the new drop boxes on November 1.
"Residents who have expired and unused pharmaceuticals are encouraged to use these drop boxes at police headquarters, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.
The mayor says Chicago's drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds all standards of safety as established by the U.S. EPA and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
A water sampling project conducted in March by the Bureau of Water, Illinois EPA identified 16 pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the untreated or drinking water of five public water supplies in Illinois, including Chicago.
The chemicals range from caffeine, nicotine, aspirin and the insect repellent DEET to prescription drugs such as the antibiotic penicillin, the anti-convulsant Dilantin and the thyroid hormone replacement Levothyroxine.
But a comparison of the sampling results with conservative screening levels developed by the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health showed the levels found in water supplies "do not present a public health hazard at this time," the report states.
Still, the majority of trace pharmaceuticals found in the city's waterways are the result of human and livestock excretion.
Improperly disposing of prescription or over-the-counter drugs can contribute to pharmaceuticals found in the city's water. Proper management and disposal has been found to lessen the impact of prescription drugs on the water system.
This year the city has been able to keep just over one ton of prescription drugs out of the waste stream as a result of four neighborhood drop-off events in addition to the permanent drop-off site at the Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility located at Goose Island.
"While research is continuing the impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on people and aquatic life, we know that we need to take action now to prevent them from getting into our waterways and lakes, and into our drinking water," said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott.
Expired and unused pharmaceuticals can be disposed of in drop boxes at the five Chicago Police Department Area Centers. By using the police facilities as a drop-off location, the controlled substances will be deposited safely and kept under observation by law enforcement until they are destroyed, the mayor said. The centers are located at:
The disposal facility is permitted to handle these materials and contains state-of-the-art technology for controlling the air emissions generated from the incineration.
"Properly disposing of unwanted medicines helps protect our Great Lakes by keeping these contaminants out of waterways such as Lake Michigan," said EPA Regional Administrator Lynn Buhl. "EPA was pleased to fund this safe and convenient way for the public to get rid of their old and unwanted meds."
"Chemicals from medicines flushed down the toilet can pass untreated through sewage plants, damage septic systems, and contaminate nearby waterways," said Beth Hinchey Malloy, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Great Lakes ecosystem specialist. "Medicines thrown in the trash can be scavenged or they have the potential to contaminate landfill leachate."
"Some pharmacies will take back some unwanted medications, and some communities have one-day collection events, but there is no long-term solution to this growing and potentially dangerous wastestream," said Susan Boehme, IISG coastal sediment specialist. "We field calls every week from community leaders, state officials, pharmacists, doctors, solid waste managers or environmental activists looking for information, support, and solutions."
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