This Saturday, October 26, is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, a chance to get rid of unwanted, unused and expired medication.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) is reminding people that they should take their medications back through one of these events, rather than flushing medication down the toilet.
“People always used to tell everyone to just flush your medication, because when you flush something you think, ‘Oh, it just goes away.’ But you don’t realize where it goes,” said Jenn Elting of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
Elting said wastewater treatment plants can remove a lot of things during the treatment process, including flushable wipes, which shouldn’t be flushed in the first place.
However, “we cannot remove medication from the wastewater,” Elting said. “So it goes through the treatment process and ultimately it does go back out into Lake Erie.”
Lake Erie is also the water supply for many drinking water plants, which can’t remove all the pharmaceuticals from the water during their treatment processes. That means medication and other compounds can end up in the water we drink.
“It’s definitely important that you take responsibility for the products and the things and the waste that you’re generating on your own,” Elting said. “So you definitely don’t want to flush prescription medications.”
She added that people also shouldn’t flush paper towels, fats and greases or “anything that can harm not only the sewer system but can harm your own personal plumbing as well.”
Compounds found in the water
Dr. Jen Mou is a researcher and associate professor at Kent State. She spoke to News 5 in late August about her research on PPCPs, or pharmaceutical and personal care products, that end up in the water we drink. That includes not only prescription and over-the-counter medications, but also products such as bug spray and sunscreen.
Her research centered on four different water treatment plants and searched for different compounds that end up in the raw water supply or source water.
She noted that there are different ways in which these compounds can enter the water.
“Because humans use different kinds of medicine, just through our digestive system there will still be a lot of residues that will be released through our feces and urines into the toilet,” Mou said.
She said throwing medication in the trash or down the toilet could also result in pharmaceuticals getting into the water, as well as surface runoff from farm animals’ excrement.
Mou described the issue as an “emerging concern.”
“They may not have immediate impact to human or wildlife health,” Mou said. “However, we do not know the long-term, chronic impact of those low-concentration compounds in the water.”