July 31, 2019
How long has it been since you cleaned out your medicine cabinet?
For most people, it's been awhile. A 2017 study by Consumer Reports estimates that a third of Americans haven’t cleaned out their cabinet in a year, and a fifth haven't in three years or more!
This matters because leftover medicines and personal care products can pose a threat to public health and the environment. Left at home, they can be accessed by children. When no longer needed, they should not be tossed in the trash or flushed down the drain. Neither wastewater treatment plants nor landfills are equipped with technology to remove the chemicals in pharmaceuticals.
What's the best way to dispose of unused medication? A community takeback program. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has partnered with communities to develop a Michigan drug disposal map with more than 800 take back locations. Medications and personal care products collected at these points are incinerated under specific conditions that destroy active drug components, keeping them out of waterways and away from children.
Since the 1970s, scientists in the United States and Europe have researched drugs in the environment. Through analysis of surface water, groundwater, and leachate (the liquid that drains from landfills), they have found the presence of medications in the environment at low levels. No known health effects for people have been detected, but changes have been reported in creatures like fish, frogs, birds, and bacteria.
As the scientific community continues to study the matter, EGLE will work to increase awareness about responsible medication management to keep drugs away from children and out of the environment.