Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 17, 2013

SHADES OF GREEN: Fresh water contaminated by everyday chemicals


— Our freshwater resources face multiple challenges ranging from overconsumption to various types of pollution.

A growing area of concern on the pollution front is the increasing presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products found in surface waters. This includes prescription and over-the counter medicines, as well as shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, soaps, deodorants, etc.

The methods of introduction of PPCP’s into the environment can be complex. One of the main sources is from human and animal waste. This is due to the fact that the medicines taken are often not fully metabolized by the body and wastewater treatment plants do not have effective ways of removing the multitude of trace chemicals they receive in the wastewater they treat. Thus, the chemicals often get released into surface water bodies unchanged by the treatment process.

A similar thing happens with animal waste as it enters surface water via runoff from a rain event. Also, many personal care products are designed to be used and washed down the drain and these chemicals also make it through the wastewater treatment process.

Results from a 1999-2000 nationwide study done by the U.S. Geological Survey were published in 2002 and indicated that 82 of the 95 chemicals for which they tested were present in 80 percent of the streams included in the study.

This was considered the landmark study in this emerging area of concern for our nation’s freshwater resource. Many smaller scale studies have been done subsequently that focus on smaller watersheds or on a particular PPCP.

Research has begun on the effects these chemicals have on aquatic life but much more research is needed. Most studies to date have focused on fish.

Currently, there is a study under way through the city of Elkhart’s Aquatic Biology Program. While the exact cause is unknown, intersex smallmouth bass have been found in the Elkhart River and the St. Joseph River.

In 2010, 62 percent of male smallmouth bass sampled had oocytes developing in their testes. In 2011 and 2012, 78 percent of male smallmouth bass sampled had this condition. More research is needed before any conclusions are drawn but this information is nonetheless very concerning. And, this phenomenon has been documented in many other watersheds around the country.

No studies have focused on the effects of subtherapeutic levels of these chemicals on humans. Many municipalities get their drinking water supply from wells. However, PPCP’s in surface water should be of particular concern to anybody whose drinking water supply comes from a lake or river.

In conclusion, this is a relatively new field of study and much more study is needed but, in the meantime, there are a few things residents can do to improve the situation.

It is imperative that unused medications are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. Do not flush unused medications down the toilet. Pills can be dissolved in liquid in a sealable container and disposed of in the trash. Liquid medications can be mixed with kitty litter and disposed of in the trash.

Or, a better alternative is to take unused medications to the county household hazardous waste collection that happens the first Saturday of every month at the Elkhart County Correctional Facility. The sheriff’s office also accepts medications for disposal 365 days a year.

And this month, the Elkhart County Drug-Free Partnership and local police departments have added MedReturn boxes to police lobbies. The MedReturn boxes can be found at the Bristol Police Department, Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, Elkhart Police Department, Nappanee POlice Department, Goshen Police Department and Indiana Toll Road Station.

In addition to the above options, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Take Back Day is scheduled for April 27  and more information can be found online. Also, when possible, use natural personal care products that don’t contain these harmful chemicals.