Teachers learn drug disposal risks

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Teachers from around Illinois are learning about the effects of improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products during workshops at the University of Illinois this week.

The workshops, which are being held at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the Prairie Research Institute, include visits to labs to learn about efforts to remove chemicals from medications and products like soap from waste water.

“Wastewater treatment plants really don’t take out a lot of those chemicals,” said Nancy Holm, of the Sustainable Technology Center. “They’re very low quantities, but they can still have an effect and an impact on the environment.”

Holm said those chemicals sometimes enter wastewater when unwanted medications are flushed down toilets or through human waste. When those chemicals make it to rivers, streams and lakes, they can hurt wildlife.

“They can cause different growth habits,” Holm said. “They can also cause sex changes in fishes.”

Holm also pointed to the risk that antibiotics entering the water could lead to bacteria that resist antibiotics.

Experts recommend, that to dispose of unwanted medications:

  • Do not flush medications down a toilet.
  • Take unwanted medication to a collection program.
  • If no collection program is available, throw medicine in trash as close to pick-up day as possible.
  • Keep medicine in its original container, removing or blacking-out personal information.
  • Add a safe and unpalatable substance like used coffee grinds to the medication.
  • Seal the medicine bottle in a leak-proof container.
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