Nearly half of us use at least one prescription drug each month, with 20 percent of the population needing at least three prescriptions or more. Our bodies use a portion of those drugs, plus the over the counter medications we ingest, and then excrete them out into our wastewater. Similarly, lots of people still flush unused drugs and pharmaceuticals down the toilet in whole form in order to keep out of the hands of others. The problem? A large portion of this medical waste ends up in our drinking water, proving to be a toxic threat to both people and the environment.
In a recent longform article for Downtown, reporter Kevin Elliott researched the dangers of polluting our drinking water with medical waste, as water treatment plants can only detect and remove a small amount of the pharmaceuticals and other chemical compounds from our drinking and wastewater. While sewage systems are designed to remove harmful contaminants from our wastewater before being released back into the environment, studies have found that only 20 to 90 percent of pharmaceuticals are typically removed from "influent," or sewage. The remaining chemicals are discharged as "effluent" and pumped right back into local waterbodies. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said water treatment isn't even designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water – meaning a Valium cocktail or antibiotic chaser could be part of your diet without your knowledge.
It is critical that agencies such as the DEQ and EPA invest time and money into research to scientifically determine the exact chemical threats to both the population and the environment, as intersex fish and other anomalies are cropping up along Great Lake tributaries. Significiant improvements in the infrastructure must be done by the Great Lakes Water Authority, which provides water to the communities of much of southeast Michigan, along with other local water treatment plants, to better filter contaminants. We believe a majority of water customers would be willing to pay to ensure their water is safe to drink, cook with, and bathe in.
Likewise, community leaders in the county would do well to help promote the program created by Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard – Operation Medicine Chest, which allows people to anonymously drop off unused medications at sheriff office locations and local police departments – and to take every opportunity to educate and remind their citizenry of the damage incurred by not properly disposing of medical waste.