Your home’s medicine cabinets hold potential dangers not only to small children in your family, but to the environment and — ultimately — all of us.
That’s because disposing of old medicines, especially by flushing them, can allow a virtual cocktail of pharmaceutical chemicals to enter the sewers, natural water ways and, eventually, our freshwater drinking supplies. It’s definitely not a case where “what you can’t see can’t hurt you.”
Scientists are discovering more and more how many ordinary household products end up contaminating water resources and harming aquatic life and other creatures higher up the food chain. Their findings go way beyond the already-alarming recent revelation of the presence of numerous pharmaceuticals in municipal drinking water supplies in the U.S.
Chemicals linked to detergents, perfumes, antibacterial soaps and medications, for instance, have been found in earthworms, which play a fundamental role at the beginning of the human food chain. And discarded birth-control pills, hormone-replacement medications and livestock hormones have been linked to sexual and developmental abnormalities in fish, frogs and other animals.
So how can you avoid contributing to the problem? These three recommendations can help:
- Check with your pharmacy before discarding old prescription medications. Initiatives like the Teleosis Institute’s Green Pharmacy Program now accept certain unused pharmaceuticals for environmentally safe disposal. Some aid organizations also collect medications for use in developing countries or after natural disasters. If old drugs you no longer need can help someone else rather than end up contaminating the environment, why not take the time to find out how?
- Keep disposed drugs from leaking into the environment. First, to discourage anyone else from using old medications, crush pills, mix with salt, flour or charcoal, and return to the original container. Then, tightly wrap the container with duct tape and seal in a plastic zip bag before throwing in the trash. Tossing out old medications this way helps reduce the chances of chemicals seeping into landfills and eventually entering natural waterways.
- Finally, avoid unnecessary medications whenever you can. While some medicated products are essential, you can easily do without others such as antibacterial soaps. These soaps not only contain triclosan that can harm algae and fish, but they’re increasingly being blamed for encouraging the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that are dangerous to animals and people alike. Stick with old-fashioned soap and water for hand-cleaning, and consider — carefully — natural remedies for other conditions. You can find helpful information about such remedies at MayoClinic.com and the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Index.