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Drugs in Our Drinking Water

Sabeen Malik | March 5, 2019

Most people expect their drinking water to be safe. However, most people don’t know the dangers that can lie in this human necessity. The presence of over 80 harmful substances, including viruses, strong acids, and metals, have been found in drinking water across America. Part of the problem is that people are dumping unused and expired medications into the water. CBS News states if this form of disposal continues, the exposure to chemicals such as hormones and antibiotics will be in one in three people by 2050. Traces of pharmaceutical drugs have been identified in drinking water of 40 million Americans. According to U.S Food and Drug Administration, 35% of the U.S. population flushes unwanted medications down the toilet, 54% of the population place them in the trash, 7% of the population leaves them in a cabinet to deal with later, and less than 2% of the population return them to the pharmacy where they were obtained. The impact of these actions on the environment is extremely dangerous because of its high potential to spread disease. The best way to prevent this is to simply return unused drugs to the pharmacy instead of tainting the world’s drinking water. How do people respond to this issue, though?

We asked five different adults how they dispose unwanted medications. 50% of surveyees leave meds in their medicine cabinets until they are forced to get rid of them, 40% return them to their local physician or sheriff’s office for safe disposal, and 10% flush meds down the toilet to keep them away from children. They also stated that returning medicines to the sheriff/physician’s office is not efficient and is rarely done because it is inconvenient to peoples’ busy schedules.

Ann Novak, 7th grade science teacher at Greenhills, when asked about the effects of chemicals in drinking water on humans, she says, “I know that people sometimes flush unused medication down the toilet, thinking that this is safe (they want to ensure that youngsters or others do not have access to these drugs). However, many drugs are causing tremendous problems for ecosystems. [My family’s] local pharmacy is CVS and they do not accept medication. I think they they should, though. It would be most convenient to return them to the place where we get them.”

Convenience is vital to ending this catastrophe. The effects of incorrectly disposing medications are disastrous; from gene disfiguration to cancer, this issue impacts all humans. However, there is much we can do about this. Drug take-back programs are located in many areas near us. Or, people can simply enforce the safe disposal of medications. Instead of flushing them down the toilet and having them end up in our water, medication can be safely discarded in three steps. First, mix the medicines with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Then place the mixture in a container such as a zip-top or sealable plastic bag, and finally, throw the container away in your household trash. This is an important cause, and if humans don’t take immediate action, the future of our drinking water is in great danger.

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Sabeen Malik
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