Tag Archives: PPCPs

DRUGS!

Well, the title is a bit dramatic – it really should read “Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” 

It’s the second brochure in GMWEA’s “Don’t Flush It!” series, and it’s now available.  Part of a public education project funded by a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and NEIWPCC, it’s intended to protect our natural waters – and ourselves – from contaminants we flush, pour, spread, or otherwise put into our wastewater stream. 

GMWEA encourages every Vermont city and town to help get the information into the public’s hands.  It’s now available for download on GMWEA’s website, and GMWEA can provide a total of 5,000 printed brochures to towns requesting them. 

Click here — Don’t Flush It — Drugs! — to download the print- and post-ready PDF; to request printed copies (for towns planning to mail them to residents), contact Daniel Hecht at dan.hecht@gmwea.org.

The first brochure, “Cloggers!,” was enthusiastically received — especially by wastewater operators weary of dealing with pump and pipe malfunction due to congealed fats, oils, and greases mixed with solid materials such as the not-very flushable “flushable” wipes.  Sent in digital form to every municipality and waste district in Vermont back in June, “Cloggers!” was posted on scores of town websites, and many towns printed the brochures and mailed them with property tax bills or sewer/water bills. 

“Drugs!” details the harmful impacts of medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – when they’re flushed or poured into household wastewater streams.  These unnatural chemicals can linger in groundwater, rivers, and lakes, and some can enter drinking water sources.  They can cause harm to aquatic ecosystems, some causing deformities in fish, amphibians, and other wildlife.

They’re not so great for people, either.  The brochure advises dropping off unused medications at one of the Vt. Health Department’s 84 safe drop sites, mailing them in, or mixing them with something unpleasant – cat litter, for example – before tossing in the trash.  (For more information, go to www.healthvermont.gov/alcohol-drugs/services/prescription-drug-disposal or call (802) 651-1550.)

Medications, though, are the easier pollutant to control.  More problematic are the thousands of chemicals used in personal care products – consumer products for body care and comfort.  We all use them every day, unaware that they pass through or wash off our bodies and pollute ground and surface waters with damaging chemicals.  They’re not food, so they’re not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 

Hair dye, shampoo, perfume, insect repellent, sunscreen, body washes, cosmetics, deodorants, steroid cream, anti-fungal cream, nail polish – it’s a long list.  These chemicals aren’t removed by our private septic systems or municipal sewage treatment plants, so they end up in natural waters, damaging wildlife, and the U.S. EPA considers many of them to be “contaminants of emerging concern” for humans as well.  In essence, that means we’ve only recently discovered they’re bad for us, and we’re not sure how to deal with them.

“Drugs!” identifies the most common products chock-full of bad chemicals – highly-perfumed and highly-colored products are often the worst – and suggests easy ways to limit your household’s contribution of them.  Never pour or flush ‘em if unwanted or unused (cap tightly and put in trash); avoid highly-scented products; limit use of antibacterial lotions; identify the worst environmental offenders and choose brands that don’t use them.  Most of all, learn about them — the brochure offers several web resources for more information. 

The underlying principle of this initiative is that public systems can only do so much to identify and remove contaminants.  Fortunately, informed Vermonters can easily adopt habits that significantly reduce our collective pollution of our waters. 

Get the brochure!  And please help spread the word.

GMWEA thanks the Castleton University Content Lab for donating graphic design services to this initiative, and is grateful to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for logistical support.

To return to GMWEA’s website, CLICK HERE.

GMWEA Wins Public Education Grant!

GMWEA recently won a $9,860 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) to help inform Vermont citizens about what we can do to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain. 

We can do a lot – provided we have the right information.

Most of us are familiar with the damaging effects of phosphate pollution, and with the e. coli contamination that sometimes closes beaches.  Unfortunately, our contribution of pollutants doesn’t end there.

Here’s a troubling, but illustrative fact: In a study conducted in 2016 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  60% to 75% of the male smallmouth bass in the Mississquoi River were found to have both male and female genitals.  Their impaired reproductive function has potentially disastrous effects on the aquatic ecosystem.

Researchers say the deformity is probably due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, particularly those mimicking estrogen, with the lead suspect being the herbicide atrazine – a common ingredient in consumer lawn and garden products.

Unfortunately, weed-killers are by no means the only ecologically-harmful chemicals a typical household contributes. Many can be found in common household products loosely grouped under the name PPCPs – pharmaceuticals and personal-care products.  The average Vermonter flushes, pours, or washes off these pollutants, and they enter the inflows of our wastewater treatment systems.  Some break down and become inert, but too many end up lingering – invisible, but harmful – in our natural waters.

If even our high-tech municipal systems can’t remove them, our only remedy is to  prevent them from entering the water in the first place.  That means we citizens need to learn better habits of product use and disposal.

The LCBP grant, funded by the U.S. EPA and administered through New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Council (NEIWPCC), will allow GMWEA to develop a series of four informational brochures, to be sent to every city and town in Vermont.  Delivered to ratepayers with water/sewer bills, the brochures – along with website/blog postings and other media coverage – will inform Vermont households about how to reduce use of ecosystem-damaging chemicals and how to dispose of them properly. 

PPCPs, such as antibiotics, antimicrobials, antidepressants, birth control pills, skin creams, insect repellent, hair dyes, and laundry products are only part of the problem.  Bacon grease and other kitchen fats clog wastewater pipes and pumps, especially when combined with “flushable” wipes, Q-tips, and tampons, reducing system efficiency and costing money in repairs.  Chemicals used in the garage and yard – degreasers, solvents, antifreeze, fertilizers, insecticides, weed-killers (such as atrazine) — also end up in storm drains or runoff and wreak havoc in rivers and lakes.  

During the next year, every city, town, household, and individual will receive tips on how to avoid polluting our shared waterways.  With this basic know-how, you can cut your input of the damaging chemicals.

Current plans call for the first brochures to be sent in May, and the initiative is expected to culminate in March, 2020.  GMWEA will contact municipal authorities to facilitate distribution in coming months, but if you’re a facility operator, town manager, DPW administrator, teacher, or ratepayer, you’re welcome to contact us sooner.  We’d love your help in getting the word out!

Thanks are due to our fiscal agent, Vermont League of Cities and Towns; to the Lake Champlain Basin Program; to New England Interstate Pollution Control Council; and to the U.S. EPA, original source of the funding.

Note: This post has been edited since its first publication to provide better information on the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study.

Click here to return to GMWEA’s website.