Wyatt: Celebrate Earth Day by protecting our water quality (column)
Earth Day presents an opportunity for each of us to find ways to be better stewards of our environment. Here in Summit County, our waterways are among our most important natural resources, and we all play a role in safeguarding them. One important — and easy — strategy to protect water quality is to keep medications and certain personal care products from entering our waters.
A broad range of pharmaceutical compounds pose water quality threats when improperly disposed of. If medications are flushed down the toilet or drain, they eventually make their way into the aquatic environment. Many medications contain compounds that are known endocrine disruptors, which mimic natural hormones, interfere with development and reproduction, and may have negative neurological and immune effects on fish and other aquatic species.
In Summit County, we have three locations where you can safely and anonymously dispose of unwanted medication: the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge, Dillon Police Department and Prescription Alternatives Pharmacy in Frisco. These drop-off locations help protect public health and safety by keeping potentially addictive substances away from kids or others who may abuse them. The drop-offs also help protect the environment by providing an alternative to flushing them down the toilet or drain.
Surprisingly, many of the personal care products that we use — e.g., shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, cosmetics, soaps — also contain endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs. These products can impact our own health through repeated direct contact with our bodies. They can also damage the aquatic environment as we wash these products off and send them through our water treatment systems, which aren’t equipped to break down EDCs.
The good news is that it’s easy to substantially reduce the exposure to personal care products that contain EDCs. Simply by being a conscious consumer, you can help protect the environment and the health of you and your family. All it takes is a little bit of label reading. Here are a few key ingredients and products to avoid:
Triclosan is an EDC found in many antibacterial soaps. A large variety of soaps (even some antibacterial soaps) that do not contain triclosan are widely available.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is used in the production of certain plastics and epoxies and may be one of the highest profile EDCs. You may be familiar with efforts to switch from water bottles made from BPA-containing plastics to safer non-BPA plastic bottles, or even to aluminum or stainless steel bottles. BPA is found in many food-can liners, in plastics marked “PC” and sometimes in products with recycling label No. 7. Even cash register receipts contain BPA!
Fragrances can be a red flag. Many products, from perfumes to cleaning products, can hide EDCs in the ingredient list under the term “fragrance.” Phthalates are one category of these chemicals, and they have been linked to a host of health issues, stemming from their ability to mimic or block our bodies’ natural hormones. One of the best ways to avoid phthalates in personal care products is to steer clear of those that list “fragrance” in the ingredients, unless the label explicitly says the product is “phthalate free.”
Animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) typically contain high levels of antibiotics, hormones and other industrial chemicals that are EDCs. When purchasing meat, poultry or dairy products, look for animal products that are free range, organic, antibiotic-free or raised on small local farms to avoid these chemicals.
For more information on ingredients and products that pose risks to our health and water quality, visit the Environmental Working Group, at EWG.org, which has a great online database of personal care products that are safe for the environment, as well as an extensive list of substances to avoid. To learn more about safe medication disposal in Summit County, visit SummitCountyCO.gov/TakeMedsBack.
Lane Wyatt is a member of the Summit Water Quality Committee.
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