Ask Eartha: Polluting waterways with just 1 flush |

Ask Eartha: Polluting waterways with just 1 flush

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My husband broke his leg skiing early season and has a slew of prescription meds he no longer needs. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t flush them down the toilet but I don’t know what else to do with them. Thoughts?

Sarah Engle, Silverthorne

Double ouch. A broken leg is pretty bad but flushing your husband’s happy pills adds insult to injury!

It’s pleasant to know that less than desirable items in your toilet will disappear with one swift flush. However, it’s important to be aware of the path your meds will take after they swirl down your drain and are out of sight, out of mind.

Post flush, your husband’s meds are on the ride of their life, from one less than pleasant water source (your dirty toilet) to treatment plants or septic systems (neither of which are engineered to search and destroy your happy pills) and finally to a little slice of paradise (our beautiful Colorado waterways).

I know what you’re thinking. What better a home for the one thing that allowed you to cope with the pain of a broken leg and a dark and lonely ski season than our pristine rivers and streams, right? Wrong.

The USGS reported that a disturbing number of drugs and other pollutants like steroids, non-prescription medications, hormones, and more have been detected in waterways across the country. That’s not surprising considering water treatment plants aren’t engineered to eliminate these chemicals from our drinking water and nearby waterways. What’s more, researchers are unsure about many of the effects that drugs might have on people and the environment. Let’s take a closer look at what we do know.

From ibuprofen to antibiotics, estrogen-laced birth control pills and mood-stabilizing drugs, the human body can absorb only some of these medications. In humans, between 50-90 percent of the active ingredients in drugs are excreted and flushed down the toilet.

So what’s the easiest way to make sure this stuff stays out of our waterways? Avoid these medications when possible but when that’s not an option, its back to the basics. Never toss medications down the toilet. We’re fortunate to have programs in Summit County that allow us to manage unwanted medications responsibly. Check it out:

Don’t miss out on a one-time only collection event for controlled substances! On Saturday, April 3, from 7 a.m. to noon you can bring you can bring controlled substances to the 9 NewsHealth Fair for safe disposal. Examples of controlled substances include pain medication such as morphine and oxycodone, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, stimulants ect. Prior to depositing of your controlled substances into secure containers at the 9 NewsHealth Fair, you’ll want to leave items in the original container and mark out personal information.

If you’re schralping expected white stuff on Saturday and miss this great opportunity, you can dispose of unused medications (no narcotics or other controlled substances) in secure collection bins at City Market in Breckenridge and Dillon. In addition to prescription medications you can dispose of pet medications, vitamins, and inhalers in these bins. For a detailed list of what is and is not accepted in the program, visit our website:

Now that you know that flushing or trash disposal of unused or unwanted medications can cause pollution of our lakes, streams, and water supplies, dispose-away responsibly. Break a leg!

Eartha Steward is written by

Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes. Submit questions to Eartha at eartha@ with Ask Eartha as the subject or to High Country Conservation Center, P.O. Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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