Editorial: Keep prescription drugs out of waterways

Published 9:30 am Friday, July 26, 2013

The steps were ingrained in us years ago. You take that expired bottle of pills and flush it down the toilet, or you twist the cap tightly and toss it into the garbage.

But those ways are as outdated as are the days of science teachers pouring out a cap full of mercury on a desk for students to touch and watch how it breaks up into silvery beads.

The purpose of a new state grant program is to educate people about today’s more environmentally friendly methods of disposing of pharmaceuticals. The Department of Health plans to distribute $100,000 a year to local organizations with the funding coming through the Minnesota Clean Water Fund.

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It will be money well spent if it means our waterways will contain fewer chemicals. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released a report last spring that highlighted how common chemicals are in our water. Scientists studied 50 lakes across Minnesota chosen at random and tested them for 127 compounds. All but three tested positive with one or more chemicals.

County health department officials from around the state told Minnesota Public Radio News that they’ve sent mixed messages to the public in the past about proper drug disposal methods. “We’ve encouraged people, for example, to dispose of their prescription drugs by flushing them down the toilet or putting them in a sealed container and disposing of them in their regular garbage and then they get put into landfill because those were the techniques we had available at that point in time,” said Diane Thorson, public health director for Otter Tail County. A grant to that county will be used to teach county residents differently.

In this area we are lucky to have convenient drop-off sites for old or unused drugs. The collected drugs are incinerated. Both the Blue Earth County Justice Center and the Mankato Public Safety Center have drop-offs. In Nicollet County, there is a drop-off at the sheriff’s office in the county government center.

But having the drop-offs and using the drop-offs are two different things. The drop-off sites have been well-used, but surely there are people who either still don’t know about them or don’t bother using them. More education and constant education are key to making sure as many people as possible are aware of the drop-offs and of the benefits of not tossing drugs into water systems or landfills.

If the new grant program will help spread the word evenly across the state, the proper disposal of prescription drugs will benefit all Minnesotans.

— Mankato Free Press, July 22

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