Proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and other common chemicals is important because of their ability to alter living things when introduced into lakes and streams.
School teachers from across Illinois attended a workshop at the Illinois Sustainable technology Center June 15-16 to help them develop curricula about the risks of improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and the impacts of these emerging contaminants on the environment.
The training was conducted with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program as part of a grant by the University of Illinois Extension to help raise awareness about the importance of proper disposal of unwanted prescription drugs and other common chemicals because of their ability to alter living things when introduced into lakes and streams.
According to Rebecca Wattleworth, a veteran teacher at Decatur’s Warrensburg-Latham High School, students and their families will benefit from these messages in their science classes. “When they come into my classroom they often do not realize the impact they have on the environment with their everyday activities,” she said. “They think when they throw it away, litter, etc. (that) it is just gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”
Wattleworth said she enrolled in the PPCP teacher workshop so she is prepared to show her students that their actions have consequences. “I want my students to learn that their everyday activities will have an impact in some way on the environment and that they need to be making better/safer choices for both the environment and us!”
Geoffrey Freymuth, a science teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, is attending the workshop to develop activities for his science enrichment class, as well as for the school’s student Green Team. “It has been my experience that students can have a great impact on the behaviors of their families and their habits,” he said. “I would like my students to be able to set up and design a local campaign on the issue or even find a way to test/evaluate local waters etc.,” he added.
Joni White, a science instructor at Urbana High School said “As an environmental science teacher, I am well aware that this is an often overlooked problem that seriously impacts the environment. I am eager to learn more about what is being done about it so that I can communicate its importance to my students.” She added “From a personal perspective, I am also a veterinarian and well aware of the medical field issue of pharmaceuticals ending up in the water supply.”
In an experiment designed for teachers to use in their classrooms, the workshop participants measured the effect of increasing concentrations of common PPCPs on growth of lettuce sprouts. The compounds used were Aspirin, road salt (MgCl2), and Epsom salt (MgSO4).
Each year, unwanted medications account for accidental poisonings and drug abuse and for environmental problems. The workshops will help this information about PPCPs become a part of each school’s curriculum, according to Nancy Holm, ISTC assistant director. “There are a number of sources of PPCPs to the environment but reducing as much improper disposal as possible is a step in the right direction.”
Recent studies reflect the growing concern about how these compounds enter the aquatic environment and their effects on wildlife.
- Salmon in Puget Sound (Seattle) were found to be contaminated with antidepressants, pain killers, anti-inflammatants, fungicides, antiseptics, anticoagulants, and antibiotics. A total of 81 PPCP chemicals from nicotine and caffeine to OxyContin and cocaine.
- Research by ISTC was among the first to confirm that the common antiseptic, Triclosan, was causing antibiotic resistance among bacteria in lakes and streams.
“This is a threat to public health and also the health of our ecosystems that every family has a direct role in preventing,” Holm added. “By providing this information to teachers they can then present this information to hundreds of students each year who can work to spread the word in their communities.”