George Washington had no idea when he crossed the Delaware that one day there would be concentrations of chemicals in the water sufficient to create a new American bass. Swimming in that river now is the "intersex" fish, whose males carry the eggs. Weird. I wonder what those same chemicals and hormones in the water do to people.
About 40 million Americans drink water contaminated by trace amounts of chemicals, from anti-seizure meds to psychotropics. Whether it gets passed first through someone's urinary tract or poured into the sink or toilet, meds get into the water we will be drinking later.
I used to presume that anything that went down the drain or into the sewer pipe from my house underwent a thorough scrubbing at the treatment plant and came out as good as new. But traditional wastewater-treatment facilities were designed to filter solid wastes, not narcotics. The most sophisticated water-treatment facility is not capable of removing all traces of drugs from the water, because many of the chemical compounds don't break down during the treatment process.
But don't despair. Just in time to help protect local waters comes the first National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday, Sept. 25, and Napa has recently gone from zero to boasting three convenient drop-off sites. Thanks and congratulations to those who rallied to provide this service: Leadership Napa Valley, Clinic Ole, County of Napa Sanitation District and Santen, a Japan-based global pharmaceutical corporation with offices in Napa.
And hats off to the grassroots volunteer organization Napa Valley Can Do for providing drivers to get the drugs to Napa's Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility on a weekly schedule. These movers and shakers know that keeping drugs out of the water is critical. But what they and others undertaking similar tasks in Sonoma and Marin counties have achieved is only a stop gap.
And so is National Prescription Take-Back Day. Why? Because right now we are taking the meds back from the waterways and disposing of them as part of the total community waste burden. We pay for this. But hopefully, the burden of taking back will soon be where it should be, on the shoulders of the pharmaceutical companies, who, if we make it law, will be obliged to facilitate the disposal of the prescription medications properly and not in our landfills. They will pay. The outcome all over the country will be safer water and more money in the town coffers. It will also mean no more drugs in the landfill.
In Napa last year, I was instructed to put my unused pharmaceuticals in coffee grounds and throw them in the trash. "But that means they go to the landfill," I protested. "They leach out into the water table." My complaint was met with silence.
Europe and Canada are ahead of us in regulating pharmaceutical manufacturers. But in the United States, corporations are still not legally responsible for the end result of their products. Proper disposal of medications is very costly and should not be the burden of communities. Right now it is. So the best we can do is our part to keep the stuff out of the water and try to avoid getting poisoned or creating transsexual bass in our rivers. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a step in the right direction, and I applaud everyone who made it happen. While awaiting true take-back legislation, let's grab our old meds and participate!
Here's the drill. Scribble out all of your personal info from the labels. If the stuff is liquid, leave it in the container; if it's dry, pop it in a zip-up plastic bag (recycle the containers).
Clinic Ole Napa, 1141 Pear Tree Lane, Napa; 707.254.1770.
Clinic Ole St. Helena, 661 Main St., St. Helena; 707.963.0931.
Clinic Ole Calistoga, 911 Washington St., Calistoga;707.709.2308.
Health First! Pharmacy, 9070 Windsor Road, Windsor; 707.837.7948.
Sonoma County Household Hazardous Waste Facility, 500 Mecham Road, Petaluma; 877.747.1870.
There are 15 drop off points listed at www.savesfbay.org/pharmaceutical-disposal-sites.