Don’t flush your meds: the common practice that’s polluting our waterways

Chattanooga, TN (WDEF) – Don’t flush your old meds.
     That’s a relatively new mantra for environmentalists and law enforcement officials alike.
     After years of being told the best way to get rid of your old medications is simply to flush them…
     Our rivers and streams are now paying the price.
     Professional fisher in training Yolanda Williams said, "Growing up they always said flush your medications, so you know, we’d do that."
     Dr. Anna George works as the Director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.  She said, "For a long time we’ve heard that the solution to pollution is dilution, but that’s really not the way we need to treat our waterways."
     In other words, even though your old medication gets diluted when you flush it… There’s still just too much of it in our waters.
     Dr. George added, "Unfortunately what it means is that our wastewater treatment plants end up with all of this medicine, and they’re really not equipped to treat that much of those types of pharmaceuticals coming through the water."
     Williams agrees.  She said, "Sometimes you come out here and there’s no one, none’s biting.  So it could be true because last year there was plenty of fish.  We could fish, and we had plenty of fish to catch, but lately it’s just like nothing."
     But there is a pollution solution.
     John Scruggs works as the Property and Evidence Technician for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.  He said, "We have the drug take back box in order for a safe disposal area for the drugs and we can dispose of them properly to minimize environmental impacts."
     Drug take back boxes like at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office most recent "Shred It" event offer people a safe way to make sure their old meds stay out of our ecosystem.  Scruggs added, "So by placing them in a proper disposal area, they are incinerated and completely taken out of the environment."
     That’s key.  A 2008 UTC study found pharmaceuticals including caffeine, antibiotics and seizure meds in the Tennessee River and its tributaries between here and Knoxville.
     Dr. George explained, "Unfortunately we see a lot of growing impacts from wastewater treatment facilities on the aquatic animals living right downstream of them.  So we’ve seen cases where the sex ratios of these fish get skewed and there’s more females in the population than males, so that’s one problem.  It can change the entire population. We also see problems where it may affect their reproductive strategies, because the amount of birth control pills may prevent ovulation, even in our fishes or our salamanders."
     Dr. George says right now the dissolved pharmaceuticals are a problem mainly around urban centers… But with Chattanooga’s aging infrastructure and growing population, they could spell disaster for our rivers and streams.  "Particularly here in the southeast," she said.  "It’s really important because we have so many aquatic animals, living right here in our backyard.  It’s really just a hotspot of biodiversity here in Tennessee and it’s really important that we take the lead for the nation in protecting these amazing animals."
     The East Ridge Police Department set up a permanent drug take back box…
     You can drop off your old medications Monday through Friday during regular business hours right to the lobby of the police station on Ringgold Road.
Categories: Chattanooga, Consumer News, Education, Hamilton County, Health, Local News, Technology

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