September 28, 2008
Activists Fight for Clean Water, Burn Drugs
By Sean Maher
By Sean Maher
OAKLAND -- Hoping to prevent mutated and sex-altered fish and other aquatic life in Bay Area waters, a crew of environmentalists set up shop in Jack London Square Sunday to collect several pounds of unwanted personal medication for proper incineration.
Many people who find themselves with expired or unwanted meds will simply throw them in the trash or flush them down the toilet not realizing the chemicals are likely to end up in our groundwater, rivers and lakes, or even San Francisco Bay, said Luis Frigo, a spokesman for the Teleosis Institute, a Berkeley-based nonprofit group specializing in green health care issues.
"Ninety percent of senior citizens in this country are taking between one and 10 regular medications," Frigo said. "And they sometimes switch prescriptions or don't finish treatments, which leaves all these extra drugs left over. They flush them down, and they have no idea the damage it can do."
The drug drop-off table was a one-day event leading into No Drugs Down the Drain Week, which will team state and local officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from Oct. 4 to 11.
The presence of medications in water became a subject of national scrutiny in March when the Associated Press released a months-long study finding small, but measurable amounts of various drugs in the drinking water of 41 million Americans. Oakland was not included in the study but a sex hormone called estradiol was found in San Francisco's drinking water.
"It's not like we're getting a high dosage of anything just drinking some tap water," said Morola Adjibodou, membership coordinator for The Teleosis Institute. "But fish live in that water all the time. And we have no way of knowing how all different kinds of drugs will affect them. You put a little Prozac in there, a little birth control and next thing you know fish are changing sex and coming out all mutated. It looks like something out of the 'X- Men.' "
Adjibodou said many of the drugs they collected Sunday were over- the-counter items consumers buy in bulk, thinking they'll save money.
"You see a sale and think, 'Oh my God, 500 pills of Tylenol for just a few dollars!' And you snatch up that big bottle and you use maybe 50 pills, and come back and find that bottle's expired. You didn't save money after all."
Even throwing that bottle in the trash might not solve the problem; rain will often carry the drugs' chemicals from landfills down into our groundwater, said Danny Phan, who was at the drug collection table Sunday promoting National Estuaries Day.
Alameda County has several drug drop-off spots where people can drop their old drugs off for free. For details, go to www.nodrugsdownthedrain.org.
Originally published by Sean Maher, Oakland Tribune.
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