By Janel Shoun on 11/4/2011
As part of an annual study of earth science issues, the David Lipscomb Elementary School third graders are studying this month the negative effects of medications that get into landfills and the water supply. The students will cap off their study by coordinating a household and e-waste collection on Tuesday, Nov. 15, America Recycles Day, at the elementary school.
Throwing away trash used to be a simple operation. But today with more awareness of the damaging effects of mercury, lead and arsenic on the environment, throwing out household trash – including light bulbs, batteries or old electronics -- has become much more complicated with various items having to be disposed of in various locations around town.
And now with more than 100 different pharmaceuticals having been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world, disposal of expired and leftover prescription and over-the-counter drugs has become an important issue. Pharmacists recommend that many drugs be returned at only designated “take-back” locations, but they are not often easy to find.
At the Nov. 15 collection, held at the David Lipscomb Elementary School site, 4517 Granny White Pike, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the third-graders will accept everything from old computer monitors to expired prescription drugs.
Acceptable items include various household waste items such as alkaline and rechargeable batteries, thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and various recyclables; e-waste such as old VCRs, computers and TVs; and the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department will be on hand to accept expired and leftover prescription and over-the-counter medications.
For a complete list of items accepted – from electrical cords to cell phones – log on to events.lipscomb.edu and scroll down to the dates of the collections.
The third graders will be learning about medications and their effect on the environment by touring the Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy labs on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Thursday, Nov. 10. They will also visit a wastewater treatment facility, create a public service announcement and hand out information flyers on proper disposal of medications at the Wal-Mart south of Old Hickory Blvd. on Nolensville Road on Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For years, pharmacists have instructed patients to flush leftover medications down the toilet, but now that practice is having ill effects on the nation’s water table, said Ginger Reasonover, the science laboratory coordinator at the elementary school, who has worked with the third graders to study the issue.
In March of 2008 the Associated Press found that 24 major metropolitan areas had trace amounts of drugs in their water supply, meaning at least 41 million Americans have tiny levels of drugs in their drinking water.
Some, but not all, pharmacies and police stations will take back drugs, but it’s hard to know which ones offer the service, Reasonover said, and other pharmacies offer the option to return leftover drugs through the mail, but at a cost.
Patients have long been encouraged to dispose of their leftover medications immediately because of the need to protect children from accidental poisonings and to discourage patients self-medicating with antibiotics and thus increasing their resistance to the drugs.
But now that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified more than 100 individual pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the nation’s drinking water, simply flushing them can do more harm than good.
In an experiment in the school’s on-site garden, the third graders determined that throwing them away is also problematic, especially antibiotics, which can leech into the soil, making the soil antibiotic resistant. If crops are grown on that soil and we eat those plants, we also have the possibility to become more resistant to antibiotics, Reasonover said.