Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't drug the fish!

Earth Keepers encourage pharmaceutical collection for environmental protection
By Phina Borgeson April 11, 2007[Episcopal News Service]

Earth Keeper team member Kelly Mathews of Big Bay, Michigan, and her husband Chris recently cleaned out their medicine cabinets and found one bottle of prescription sinus medication that was 18 years old.
"I wonder how many people would just pop open the pill container and flush the pills down the toilet," asked Mathews, a 36-year-old Roman Catholic mother of two.

The environmental impact of such actions has caused the Earth Keepers of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) to focus this year’s Earth Day Clean Sweep on prescription medications, over-the-counter remedies, and other personal-care products.

About two dozen drop-off sites will be open from 9 a.m. to noon (CST) on April 21 for the free collection. Local churches from Houghton in the northwest to St. Ignace in the southeast are participating.

“As leftover and waste pharmaceuticals get flushed down drains, research is showing that they are increasingly being detected in our lakes and rivers at levels that could be causing harm to the environment and ecosystem," said Elizabeth LaPlante, senior manager for the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Great Lakes National Programs Office in Chicago, Illinois.

"Specifically, reproductive and development problems in aquatic species, hormonal disruption, and antibiotic resistance are some concerns associated with pharmaceuticals in our wastewater," she said.

This third annual Clean Sweep reflects a covenant among nine U.P. faith communities, representing about 40 percent of the peninsula’s residents. Responding to the initiative of the Superior Watershed Partnership and religious leaders, other groups have joined Earth Keepers, including the Cedar Tree Institute, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Nature Conservancy, and Northern Michigan University.

Carl Lindquist, of the Superior Watershed Partnership, noted recent national studies documenting that more than 80 percent of the rivers sampled "tested positive for a range of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, birth control hormones, antidepressants, veterinary drugs and other medications."

Lindquist added that some urban centers have even detected "traces of pharmaceuticals in their tap water." EPA studies have shown that most municipal systems are not equipped to filter out these chemicals.

Episcopal team member Nancy Auer, associate professor in the Michigan Tech University Department of Biological Sciences, said it is important to stop the growing problem of pharmaceuticals in America's water supply.

"Although pharmaceuticals may seem like small unimportant product, their disposal and dilution in our aquatic ecosystems is having grave impacts on aquatic organisms," noted Auer, who manages the Houghton collection site.

"The drugs we take, and their disposal, are another area of our lives we must vigilantly examine if we are to be careful stewards of the Earth as God calls us to be," said Auer.

Bishop James Kelsey of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan said that "it is common to hold onto unused or partially used medications for indefinite periods of time," adding that this year’s Clean Sweep helps protect the environment while helping to ensure that the U.P. senior population is not consuming out-of-date medicines.

"When their effective dates have expired, they can actually create a hazard, particularly for the young as well as the elderly who may have difficulty keeping track of various bottles and boxes which tend to accumulate in our medicine cabinets," said Kelsey.

Jennifer Simula, Northern Michigan University (NMU) Earth Keeper student team project director, said, "This year's Clean Sweep is going to be revolutionary. A collection like this is, as far as I know, unprecedented."

Lindquist agreed that the Earth Keeper Initiative and thus the Upper Peninsula is "ahead of the national curve" in addressing the pharmaceutical issue.

The NMU Earth Keeper team was created in April 2006 as the student wing of the initiative.

In addition to assisting in the annual clean sweeps, the student team focuses on adopt-a-watershed initiatives, involved in cleaning, testing, and developing a plan for six tributaries to three of the Great Lakes.

Simula and others are committed to spreading Earth Keeper culture, beginning by recruiting students for chapters at three other U.P. universities, and reaching out to youth and adults with practical, everyday ways people can reduce human impact on the environment.

"I'm really excited, not only about the energy I'm feeling from everyone involved so far, but about the education that's happening through all of the NMU Earth Keepers talking to everyone they know about the dangers of improperly discarded pharmaceuticals and what they're doing to our waterways," said Simula, an NMU graduate student and Lutheran from Michigamme, Michigan. "This is a topic that is rarely discussed -- no one really knows about it."

Lutheran Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey, of St. Ignace and Brevort in the eastern Upper Peninsula, noted that "hosting clean sweeps through the churches has been a powerful way to connect our faith with our lives."

"This has also been a great witness to the secular community which has dismissed religion as out-of-touch. Our communities of faith, when touched by the spirit, become a power that creates amazing change."

Pharmacists and law-enforcement officers are cooperating in the collection and will be present at all sites to ensure security and proper procedures, Lindquist said.

Previous Earth Keeper annual Clean Sweeps have collected household toxins and electronics, and the group has been recognized for its success.

This year’s pharmaceutical collection is funded in part by the EPA and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.



Greg Peterson said...

I am volunteer media guy for the event mentioned in the post - "Don't drug the fish"

Northern Michigan Residents Turn In Tens of Thousands of Pharmaceuticals Weighing Over One Ton

Narcotics Have Estimated Street Value of $500,000

Third Annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep Targeted All Medicines

Earth Day: 2007 Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep

(Marquette, Michigan) - Northern Michigan residents honored Earth Day by turning in tens of thousands of pills plus narcotics with an estimated street value of half a million dollars during the third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep.

The 2007 Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep targeted out-of-date and unwanted medications of all kinds, according to Carl Lindquist, executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership.

Lindquist estimated that over one ton of pharmaceuticals and personal care products were turned in by the public.

The "controlled substances" turned in have an estimated street value of $500,000 including narcotics in pill and liquid form, clean sweep organizers said.

Several police officers estimated that each one of the narcotics and other controlled drugs had a street value ranging from $5 to $25 per pill.

“We had a great public turnout, a lot of people showed up with old medications,” said Lindquist said. “We are again breaking records for the Great Lakes and maybe the nation.”

Lindquist said the exact number of controlled substances turned in was still being tallied.

About 2,000 people turned in items but the many had also collected pharmaceuticals from other family and friends, organizers said.

The 2007 clean sweep went off without a hitch thanks to the U.P. chapter of the Michigan Pharmacists Association, and numerous law enforcement agencies including the DEA and Michigan Sheriff's Association, organizers said. Pharmacists and law enforcement officers were present at all collection sites to ensure security and proper collection of the pharmaceuticals, Lindquist said.

The third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep was coordinated by the Superior Watershed Partnership and the Cedar Tree Institute, both Marquette-based non-profit environmental groups.

The clean sweep was again sponsored by nine U.P. faith communities with 130,000 members (60 percent of U.P. residents), the Superior Watershed Partnership, the Cedar Tree Institute, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

The project involves the congregations of over 140 churches and temples representing nine faith communities (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist, Baha'i, Jewish, and Zen Buddhist).

The clean sweep had over 400 volunteers including 150 members of Thrivent Financial and 40 Northern Michigan University (NMU) students.

Financial sponsors again this year include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and $15,000 from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a not-for-profit financial services membership organization and fraternal benefit society.

Rev. Jon Magnuson, Earth Keeper Initiative founder, said "one of the gifts that the faith community brings to the environmental movement is that the external damage done in the environment is a reflection of what is going on in the human condition, in the human heart - so as we heal and cleanse the Earth, we are also healing the human heart.”

“We are in trouble with the way we live with the Earth, we have lost our balance" but projects like the clean sweeps are one example of humans correcting man-made problems, said Rev. Magnuson, co-organizer of the clean sweeps and the head of Lutheran Campus Ministry at NMU.

Lindquist said the pharmaceuticals will be taken to an EPA-licensed incinerator at Veolia Environmental Services near St. Louis, Missouri.

The EPA is funding the collection of pharmaceuticals and personal care products because trace amounts of chemicals from those substances are turning up in America’s drinking water.

EPA official John Perrecone from Chicago visited several of the collection sites and praised the Superior Watershed Partnership and the Earth Keeper team for its organization and success pulling off the largest geographical pharmaceutical collection in U.S. history.

“From the EPA’s prospective this is an ideal approach for grassroots community members and the faith-based community to work with the federal government, American Indians and others to achieve environmental gain,” said Perrecone, Ecosystem Projects Manager at the Midwestern Region office of EPA located in Chicago.

The 19 Earth Keeper sites collect “the whole gamut” of over-the-counter and prescription medications including a wide range of narcotic pain killers, sleeping pills, syringes/needles, and antibiotics.

The public also turned in a wide range of personal care products like shampoo, lotions and soaps.

Although an environmental project, the pharmaceutical collection had several great side-effects like removing drugs that could be accidentally consumed by children thinking the pills were candy, and preventing diversion of controlled substances such as narcotics by people addicted to prescription medications.

Some of the medication was over 100 years old, including 18 large dust-covered antique bottles filled with liquids and powders that Lutheran Mary Sloan Armstrong of Harvey brought to the Messiah Lutheran Church collection site in Marquette.

Armstrong said the medicines - some with Latin labels - belonged to her late father J.K. Sloan, who ran Sloan’s Pharmacy in Galva, Illinois for decades prior to his death.

“These are drug bottles that were in the basement of my dad’s pharmacy,” said Armstrong. “We’ve had them for about 30 years (since her father’s death) and haven’t done anything with them. We thought this would be a good chance to get rid of the contents.”

Pharmacists gathered around Armstrong’s car to get a look at the century old drugs that had a variety of deteriorating cork-like lids.

“This stuff goes back about one hundred years, “ said Marquette pharmacist Dave Campana, while lifting several of the bottles out of an old wooden crate.

“These are really old powders that they used to make up medications - you don’t find these in pharmacies anymore because they don’t have a need for it. But they used it years ago,” Campana said. “These powders and liquids are considered hazardous waste but they are drugs.”

A member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Harvey, Armstrong said some of the bottles have pre-civil war patents and her family plans to search her late father’s basement for more bottles after learning the importance of proper disposal of medicines through the clean sweep.

Meanwhile at the St. Peter Catholic Cathedral collection site in Marquette, one person dropped off a “turn-of-the century” black folding case containing eight small bottles filled with powders.

“This is what would have been a doctor’s traveling pharmacy,” said Marquette pharmacist Kent Jenema, while showing the leather zippered case to an EPA observer. “This has a lot of old patent type medications from mostly natural sources that predates some of the pharmacy that we know today.”

The third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep was praised by America’s Drug Czar, law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

"Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem across the Nation, increasingly affecting families who have been untouched by illegal drug use," said U.S. Drug Czar John Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and a member of the President's Cabinet

Walters cited the 2007 Pharmaceutical Clean sweep across northern Michigan as an example of “community engagement in properly disposing of pharmaceuticals (that) will help us stop and prevent prescription drug abuse, and the harm it can cause.”

Remote areas like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are not immune to prescription drug abuse.

About 14 percent of students in Alger and Marquette counties admit using prescription medication to get high, according to a 2006 survey by the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development.

"And in our own community here in the U.P., it's an under-reported problem and a lot of times prescription drugs that are suitable for abuse can be stolen from people for whom they are prescribed,” said Paul Olson, a licensed social worker who works for the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development in Marquette.

Katherine Geier removed all the narcotics from her home, delivering OxyContin and other medication to the collection site at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Ishpeming.

“My mother had become addicted to prescription pain killers and sleeping pills, so I ended up hiding them from her,” Geier said. “So I had all these narcotics and I did not know what to do with them.”

“I did not want to flush them down the toilet,” Geier said. “So I finally found a proper was to dispose of them.”

Drug addicts and burglars “will break into people’s homes and steal these narcotic drugs for their own personal gain - they will either use it themselves or sell it on the streets,” said Ishpeming Police Officer Robert Sibley, one of dozens of law enforcement officers stationed at the 19 collection sites. “This is a big problem and we are working on it all the time.”

Police were pleased the clean sweep prevented lots of “controlled” drugs from possible diversion to the street.

“This is great,” said Marquette Police officer Brandon Boesl, while transferring counted narcotics to a special holding container during the collection at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette.

“Some of the most abuse things in the area are prescription drugs and a lot of people after they get their prescription refilled don’t use them - and other family members or children can get a hold of them - and this is a great way to get rid of them,” officer Boesl said.

Marquette General Hospital Pharmacist Bob Hodges said “these are controlled drugs and we are inventorying them so that we will have a better record of the drugs that are being collected - it’s required by law.”

After counting pills from a dusty bottle filled with narcotics, Ishpeming pharmacist Steve Lyford said “to dispose of these medicines in a safe way is a real good idea.”

Over 100 people dropped off pharmaceuticals at the First Presbyterian Church in Escanaba, MI. Including over 3,700 (controlled substance) pills.

Some participants held medications "for many years after the death of a relative because they did not know what to do with it," said Jill Wiese Martin, site manager and a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Escanaba, MI.

"Most people were relieved to be able to bring this material in without any hassles and many were very aware that this material should not be just flushed," said Wiese Martin, adding many participants were frustrated that left over medicine goes to waste when it is replaced by new treatment.

"We need a systematic way to routinely and safely dispose of unused and unwanted medications," said Wiese Martin, an environmental scientist. "An organized means for collection and disposal just does not exist."

Removing pharmaceuticals and personal care products is important to protect the many rivers in the Escanaba area, and on Lake Michigan bays that are world renown walleye fisheries.

"Little Bay de Noc is a very rich ecosystem, one of the richest due to it's complex geology, geography and the many surface water streams that discharge in to it," Wiese Martin said.

In addition to being an environment professional, Wiese Martin says protecting the water is important part of her Presbyterian faith.

"We need to protect and preserve God's creation for all, even to the extent that future adverse outcomes can be avoided and minimized," Wiese Martin said. "It provides an another mission opportunity in God's world and hope to our children that we care about the world we are leaving them."

The city of Escanaba, Bay de Noc Community College and public school educators are "actively promoting a number of issues" including "the importance of wetlands to the entire bay ecosystem," creating "a walkable community" and reducing the "human/consumer waste stream," Wiese Martin said.

At the First Lutheran Church in Gladstone, about 75 people dropped off medicines and security was provided by Michigan State Police and Gladstone Public Safety Officers, including some in plain clothes.

"This was a wonderful event - a perfect marriage of two concerns - care of the environment and the need to remove drugs that might otherwise be abused from the community," said Pastor Jonathan Schmidt.

Delta County Prosecutor Steve Parks visited the Gladstone clean sweep location and told the site manager he was pleased to see narcotics and other prescriptions drugs removed from his community.

Northern Michigan University student Miranda Revere said while volunteering at the First Lutheran Church in Gladstone she learned how severe the prescription drug abuse problem is from the Delta County prosecutor and the pastor.

“Delta County has a problem with teens abusing prescription drugs, so finding people to help at the pharmaceutical collection was not difficult at all,” said Revere, a 21-year-old business management major from Clio, MI.

“The county prosecuting attorney discussed the committee that has been put together to help this problem,” said Revere, who has attended NMU for three years.

For the year in a row, 10-year-old Eve McCowen volunteered at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette and was assigned the task of taking bags full of personal care products and non-prescription medications and dumping them into large holding containers.

“We came here to collect the vitamins, pills and any other medicines - so they won’t pollute the earth anymore,” said McCowen, a fourth grader, who volunteered with her parents and other members of the Marquette Baha'i Spiritual Assembly.

“There has been a lot of stuff and I have been dumping them into this barrel,” said McCowen with a huge grin.

The Northern Michigan University EarthKeeper (NMU EK) Student Team sent volunteers literally hundreds of miles to all 19 collections sites.

NMU EK project director Jennifer Simula said the students really enjoy doing their part to protect the environment.

“They are wearing green T-shirts and they all have smiles on their faces,” said Simula as three students each emptied several large shopping bags full of medicines and person care products.

“The students are greeting everybody as they come in, providing hospitality and letting everyone know what’s going on and that they are involved in a great project,” said Simula, who is a student leader in Lutheran Campus Ministry at NMU.

The students have many projects and are working on setting up chapters at three other U.P. universities while still keeping up with classroom assignments.

“The pharmacists brought knowledge of all the things we collect, the law officers praised us for getting these drugs in a secure place and out of the potential of being abused,” said Michael Rotter, a senior majoring in botany.

“The amazing thing about the clean sweep, is me being a 21-year-old Buddhist college kid can sit down and talk to a 30 year old pharmacist father and we can both relate to the 50-year-old Methodist pastor,” Rotter said.

The Earth Keepers “had people from the community drop off pharmaceuticals for friends and family members” adding it was such a “beautiful day” many walked to their collection site, said NMU EK Student Team member Ashley Ormson of Negaunee, a sophomore with a double major in International Relations and French.

“I was very happy that everything went smoothly for the three hours, and we didn't encounter any complications,” said Ormson, a member of Messiah Lutheran Church and student leader with Lutheran Campus Ministry at NMU.

NMU EK Student Team member Matt Nordine, who volunteered at the UMC church in St. Ignace, did not mind the four-hour round trip drive because “it was good to actively participate in Earth Day.”

NMU EK team member Lauren Murphy said it is easy to mix her studies and getting good grades with several environmental projects because “we keep a good balance - on the weekends we go to our projects and help out and during the week we go to the Earth Keeper meetings after class.”

“We collected a lot of medicines, old suntan lotions, eye drops, cosmetics and other stuff like that,” said NMU EK team member Kristy Knutson, while going thru bags of items dropped off by Marquette residents.

“Lots of controlled substances came through that won't get sold or end up in the water,” said Rev. Tari Stage-Harvey, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church in St. Ignace and Trinity Lutheran Church in Brevort (combined 100 parishioners).

Rev. Jim Balfour, pastor of United Methodist of St. Ignace, said he was “happy to see people from so many churches help” with the clean sweep.

"It is wonderful to work in a community where the churches come together easily to address the threats to God's world," Pastor Balfour said.

Pastor Balfour thanked Earth Keepers for the clean sweeps and literature that was passed out to the public because it helps "people understand how many of the common items of our daily lives can be a threat to the environment when they have out lived their usefulness."

Presbyterian Earth Keeper team member Sue Piasini of Sagola said she "saw a flock of geese when I was going to the clean sweep and I thought ‘we are going to take care of the water for you' and it was such a nice sunny day."

Three pharmacists from two retail stores "never stopped counting pills during the entire three hours," said Piasini, who volunteered at the Salvation Army Bread of Life Center in Iron Mountain.

"One plastic bag had over 2,000 pills and they had to sort them all out," said Piasini, a member of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola, MI.

Members of several faith communities were among the volunteers and everyone was in a great mood "joking and having a fun time," said Piasini.

Earth Keeper surveys were filled out by all 94 people, mostly senior citizens, who dropped off pharmaceuticals and many brought in drugs collected from family and friends, Piasini said.

"One person brought a full duffel bag" of pharmaceuticals, said Piasini, who has two grandchildren and is the mother of four grown children.

Bishop Alexander K. Sample, Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette, said he is “thrilled” with the results and was especially happy about the large youth involvement in protecting the environment and taking prescription drugs off the streets.

“It is wonderful to see that the younger generation is at the heart of this Earth Keepers effort,” said Bishop Sample, who oversees 97 U.P. parishes and missions with 65,400 members. “They understand better than many, the connection between faith and care for creation, God's gift to us.”

“We have to be concerned about our young people and the world we will hand on to them,” Bishop Sample said.

“It is a way for us, as people of faith, to show our concern for the world that our Creator has entrusted to our care and stewardship,” Bishop Sample said.

Catholic Earth Keeper team member Kyra Fillmore, a 29-year-old mother of two small children, said “people were unloading medicines from deceased relatives or from past illness.”

"This collection was a quieter, more personal event," said Fillmore, a member of St. Louis the King Catholic Church in Harvey. “I'm grateful that Earth Keepers could provide a comfortable place for people to - in a sense - release past pains and help keep our water clean as well.”

Catholic Earth Keeper Linda of Marquette, who drove five hours round trip to volunteer at the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Ironwood, MI, called the clean sweep "a most spiritual event for cleansing the soul of medicinal toxins."

O'Brien believes participants "shed the reminder of pain from loved ones or oneself physical medicinal needs."

"Residents were able to make their home environment safer by disposing of unused or unwanted medicines and old health care products in an ethical way," O'Brien said. "They responded knowing that they are also contributing to the health and safety beyond their own doorstep."

Retired steelworker Don Flint of Ironwood said his wife, Betty, cleaned out their medicine cabinets "to get rid of medications that we don't want any more" because "we've become more aware that it's not the right thing to do to flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet."

A Lutheran, Flint, 64, dropped off old antibiotics, arthritis pain medicine, aspirin, Tylenol and lotions at the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church collection site in Ironwood.

The Flints are members of the (ELCA) Salem Lutheran Church in Ironwood, which recently formed the Christ Lutheran Parish with 3 other ELCA churches in Ironwood.

Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan (EDNM) Bishop James Kelsey, who brought several old medications to a Catholic collection site, said he hopes that others will follow the example of the Earth Keeper team and that the clean sweeps are “a catalyst for a movement much bigger than our demographics” in remote northern Michigan with a population of about 260,000 people spread across hundreds of square miles.

“Care for the environment is an expression of love for God and one another," said Kelsey, who serves as Bishop for 27 Episcopal congregations with 2,500 members in the U.P.

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Lutheran Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes of the Northern Great Lakes Synod (NGLS), who volunteered at the Fortune Lake Lutheran Bible Camp in Crystal Falls, said the public was happy to participate and had an “eagerness about being a part of the solution.”

“It was a morning of solutions to difficult problems and I am proud of my church," said Bishop Skrenes, the head of 91 U.P. Lutheran congregations with 40,000 members.

The NGLS also includes Finlandia University in Hancock and the Northland Lutheran Retirement Community in Marinette, WI.

Jewish Earth Keeper Jacob Silver of Negaunee Township said future health of the planet will depend on how youth are motivated by adults - and protecting nature is clear in the annual teachings and observations of Tikkun Olam and Passover.

“It is important that adults and parents are seen by youth to be carrying out the moral obligation for Tikkun Olam,” said Silver, one of 70 members of Temple Beth Sholom in Ishpeming, MI. “This creates a reality for the youth - thus, it spreads the message to care for the environment across generations.”

Silver said “for Jews, the Earth is all we have.”

“There is no mention, thus no concept, of existence after death in the five books of Moses, our
Torah,” Silver said. “So, the welfare of the planet is always a prime commitment for Jews.”

“There is nowhere else, and if we foul the Earth, we can be left ultimately homeless,” Silver said.

Silver added that “the welfare of the Earth, and its parts, is a primary commitment for Jews.”

“The Earth Keepers provide, not only an opportunity to help heal the Earth, but also collaboration with members of faith communities in the area - it is a wonderful organization,” Silver said.

For the third year in a row, northern Michigan Zen Buddhists volunteered at the Grace United Methodist Church in Marquette, and the head priest said it is "the beginning of a tradition and it felt good to be back there on Earth Day" with UMC Rev. Charlie West and "his hospitable crew doing something for the earth and raising consciousness about yet another hazard that is degrading and poisoning our environment."

"Each year during the Clean Sweeps, I see wider involvement and more publicity, and each year I see more evidence of young people participating, which is absolutely a necessity over the long haul," said Reverend Tesshin Paul Lehmberg, leader of the Lake Superior Zendo - a Marquette Zen Buddhist temple.

Rev. Lehmberg said his 15-year-old daughter, Freya, and Rev. West’s 13-year-old son, Christopher, were excited to volunteer.

"We're passing along our enthusiasms, and our worry" over the environmental condition of the earth and that youth concern for nature and involvement is essential to the future of the planet, Rev. Lehmberg said.

Dr. Rodney Clarken, chair of the Marquette Baha'i spiritual assembly who volunteered at a Lutheran church, said "the interfaith aspect of this project has given it a unique energy and power - when you see the results over the past three years" adding that he hopes people will see the connection between protecting the Earth and their spiritual beliefs.

"The environmental crisis is foundationally a spiritual crisis, and until you address those spiritual issues you will not have significant impact on the environment. ," said Clarken, NMU interim associate dean of Teacher Education and director of School of Education, adding there are about 40 members of Baha'i in Marquette (about 100 in Upper Peninsula) , and 144,000 in the United States (about 6 million world wide).

"In our world of rapid and accelerating change, protecting our environment, both physically and spiritually, is increasingly critical and challenging," Clarken said. "Baha'is believe that only in seeking spiritual solutions to our material problems will we be able to sustain and advance civilization."

Clarken said that Baha'ullah - the Prophet-Founder of Baha'i - wrote: "The earth is but one county, and mankind its citizens."

United Methodist Church (UMC) Marquette District Superintendent (DS) Grant R. Lobb said the words "cleaner water" kept popping into his mind as he stood in "the warm parking lot watching a number of individuals and couples bringing in their outdated pills, tablets and syringes" into the basement of the Grace United Methodist Church in Marquette.

The clean sweep means "cleaner water for all of us," said Lobb, DS of the Marquette District of the Detroit Annual Conference UMC, which has 8,372 parishioners and 60 northern Michigan congregations.

Supt. Lobb said he is "impressed by the participation of our senior citizens, who not only took the time to look through their cupboards and cabinets for outdated medicines, but also made the effort to drive to the collection sites in order to turn in their items."

Catholic Earth Keeper team member Kelly Mathews of Big Bay, and her husband, Chris Mathews, 45, brought numerous medicines bottles to the collection including 18-year-old prescription sinus medication they found while recently cleaning out their medicine cabinet.

Mathews said she “could not believe the amount of unused medication” adding America’s medical system needs to find a way to prevent the waste of these drugs.

“Some people brought in bottles with 50 to 80 more pills,” said Mathews, a 36-year-old mother of two who says her family switched to natural remedies years ago because they believe those medications are usually safer than prescription medicines.

“I found the financial waste was totally unnecessary; those drugs were paid by someone - who would have thought that there would be so much going to waste,” Mathews said. “Many people commented on how much the drugs had cost and that they never actually used them. I wonder, why the excess?”

Marquette Unitarian Universalist Congregation (MUUC) Earth Keeper team member Gail Griffith of Marquette agreed with Mathews that the waste of medicine in America is sad.

“The pharmacist at Grace United Methodist told me that a drug I turned in, with an expiration date in 1992, was worth over $600,” Griffith said. “It had been prescribed but not completely used.”

“It's too bad that so much money is used to buy pharmaceuticals that end up as trash, but we need to insure that trash doesn't end up harming our waters,” Griffith said.

Presbyterian Earth Keeper team member Lynnea Kuzak, who volunteered at the First United Methodist Church in Manistique, said she was thanked by a resident who lost her husband to cancer last September and wished that all his medication had been properly disposed.

"Another person told me ‘I didn't like putting them down the toilet,’ " said Kuzak, 28, the director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church in Marquette.

Presbyterian Pastor Dave Anderson of Iron Mountain is thankful for the interfaith clean sweeps because “I worry about the legacy our generation will leave for future ones, but it is good to know that we are doing something about it through opportunities like this.”

Rev. Anderson, who serves as the chaplain for the Dickinson County Health Care System, added that “we all need to realize that the pick up and disposal of polluting waste like electronic equipment and outdated pharmaceuticals is making a big difference now and for future generations.”

"As God's children, we feel like we are provided a concrete, tangible way to make a difference in our environment,” said Rev. Anderson, who is pastor of the Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola.”

Lutheran Joy Ibsen said on the Sunday morning following the clean sweep her Lutheran congregation sang “We Gather at the River-- the beautiful, the beautiful river.”

I couldn't help but think how perfectly that song was for us on Earth Day,” Ibsen said. "To me, there is a special symbolism in this year's Clean Sweep--preventing pharmaceuticals from entering our water systems.”

Ibsen said she was struck by how many prescriptions were thrown away because of serious side effects despite advances in medical care.

“So many of our environmental problems come from the side effects of our advanced society - and every prescription has side effects,” said Ibsen, the organist at Trinity Lutheran Church in Trout Creek, MI.

“One woman told me she had paid $140 for a certain prescriptions which gave her nothing but welts - she could not take it because of her allergic reaction, said Ibsen, lay minister, vice president of the church council at Trinity Lutheran.

Ibsen said, like people, “the earth and water is allergic to many powerful prescriptions and chemicals.”

Mary Klups of Ontonagon County brought in several types of pain and blood pressure medication, including two bottles of morphine, leftover from her late husband’s cancer treatment.

“I had several drugs I have kept, waiting to dispose of in the right way,” said Klups, while dropping off pharmaceuticals at the White Pine Community United Methodist Church.

“I also have several of my own medications including some very expensive medicine that did not work out because I had an allergic reaction to it,” Klups said. “I really appreciate having a way to get rid of all this.”

White Pine pharmacist Chuck Blezek said “for years we told people to flush old prescriptions down the toilet - it is only lately that we have found out that it is the wrong thing to do.”

“This is a very worthwhile thing Earth Keepers is doing,” Blezek said.

Wayne Sparks of White Pine said he dropped off drugs “because I don’t have any other good way of disposing of these medications.”

UMC Earth Keeper team member Rev. Charlie West said that church members “felt really good about providing this service for the community.”

“These chemicals should not be loose in the creation - we're glad they will be disposed of carefully," said Rev. West, pastor of the Grace UMC in Marquette and project director of the first clean sweep. "We had some over the counter medicine from 20 years ago - and we saw a lot of the same people we have seen over the past two years” at the previous clean sweeps.

Two weeks after a lengthy blizzard that dumped over five feet of snow, those participating enjoyed sun with temperatures in the 70's, that Rev. West described as “a good day to be disposing of chemicals carefully - so the creation will continue to be healthy and wholesome.”

Messiah Lutheran Church Pastor Nancy Amacher praised the police for standing watch, pharmacists “who utilized their knowledge and expertise,” NMU students that “helped wherever needed” and others for “helping out on a sunny Saturday morning when they could have been sleeping in or doing their own thing.”

“As people of faith we believe the earth is God's created gift and part of our stewardship is to care for ourselves as well as the forests, waterways, and their inhabitants,” said Rev. Amacher.

Munising United Methodist Church site coordinator Phil Hansen said many participants collected from family and friends and “almost all people brought in large quantities of items” filling plastic grocery bags.

“We had more controlled substances turned in than we expected,” said Hansen., adding security was provided by Munising Police Chief Steven Swanberg and Lt. Mike Nettleton. “People were happy that a pharmacist was on duty and their privacy was protected.”

Hansen said many people were previously “unaware that throwing away medicine or flushing it was harmful and they will not do that in the future.”

Gee Petruske collected items from his community in remote Grand Marais and made an hour-long special trip to Munising to deliver the items.


The EPA and Lindquist said the clean sweep targeted medicines because trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are turning up in America's rivers, lakes, and drinking water.

The EPA says most treatment plants are not designed to filter out these medications.

When pills or liquid medicines are poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet they remain diluted in the water supply after treatment and these trace amounts are suspected of causing a range of health problems, according to the EPA.

As leftover and waste pharmaceuticals get flushed down drains, research is showing that they are increasingly being detected in our lakes and rivers at levels that could be causing harm to the environment and ecosystem," said Elizabeth LaPlante, senior manager for the EPA Great Lakes National Programs Office in Chicago, Ill

"Specifically, reproductive and development problems in aquatic species, hormonal disruption and antibiotic resistance are some concerns associated with pharmaceuticals in our wastewater," LaPlante said.

"The Earth Keeper Pharmaceutical Collection event, therefore, is an excellent opportunity to prevent the introduction of these chemicals into Lake Superior and other water bodies," LaPlante said.

Lindquist said that recent national studies have documented that over 80 percent of the rivers sampled "tested positive for a range of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, birth control hormones, antidepressants, veterinary drugs and other medications."

Lindquist said some urban centers have even detected "traces of pharmaceuticals in their tap water."

Pharmaceuticals in some rivers have also been linked to behavioral and sexual mutations in species of fish, amphibians and birds, according to EPA studies.

Pharmaceutical compounds known as endocrine disruptors have even been linked to neurological problems in children and increased incidence of some cancers, Lindquist said.

There were 19 drop off sites across a 400 mile area (and in all 15 counties) of Michigan's Upper Peninsula that open Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 9 a.m. to noon local time on Earth Day eve.

In 2006, over 320 tons of electronic waste (old/broken computers, cell phones etc.) were dropped off in just three hours by an estimated 10,000 U.P. residents. It took 9 semi trucks to haul the e-waste to an EPA approved recycling centers in the Lower Peninsula.

In 2005, the first clean sweep collected 45 tons of household poisons and vehicle batteries. The hazardous waste, including over two pounds of mercury, were properly disposed of in various ways according to EPA and state guidelines.

Both previous clean sweeps broke EPA collection records for the Great Lakes, organizers said.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans donated $5,000 for the 2006 clean sweep.

Thrivent Financial also awarded a $75,000 Youth Leadership Initiative grant to Northern Michigan University’s Lutheran Campus Ministry in 2006 for development of an on-going program for college students to become involved in the ecological stewardship of the environment. Three other universities are also involved in the program, including Michigan Tech, Finlandia University and Lake Superior State University.

Partners who helped make the clean sweep a success include U.S. Senator Carl Levin's Office, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the NMU Environmental Science Program and many others.

Last fall, the Earth Keeper Initiative and its partners were honored with three international awards.

The Earth Keeper Initiative received several prestigious awards in 2006 including an international Environmental Stewardship award from the Lake Superior Binational Program and the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) Award.

The Earth Keeper Clean Sweep was named one of the 15 hardest working non-profit projects in America in 2006 by World Magazine, an international religious publication.

The NMU EK team was created last April as the student wing of the Earth Keeper Intiative. The In addition to assisting in the annual clean sweeps, the NMU EK Student Team has numerous projects including (Adopt-A-Watershed) cleaning, testing, and developing a plan for six tributaries to three of the Great Lakes, recruiting students for chapters at three other U.P. universities, plus youth and adult outreach on practical everyday ways people can reduce human impact on the environment.

The Superior Watershed Partnership has on-going programs that including Adopt-Your-Watershed, public environmental education, summer youth programs, land conservation, habitat restoration, energy conservation and numerous opportunities for volunteers to get "hands-on experience" in their communities, national parks, national forests and their local watershed, Lindquist said.

For more information on the clean sweep (or the other projects) contact the Superior Watershed Partnership at 906-228-6095 and Greg at 906-475-5068, or email:

Earth Keeper TV:

Earth Keeper related website addresses are:

The Superior Watershed Partnership

The Cedar Tree Institute:

The Lake Superior Interfaith Communication Network:

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