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.
Posted by Ann at 7:59 AM