Just as the police bang down the door, the bad guys flush the incriminating drugs down the toilet. Surely, a scenario we’ve all seen on TV and in the movies. But, you might be surprised to find out how many drugs wind up in our lakes and rivers every day.
Household drugs like painkillers, antibiotics, and hormones enter the water system in many ways. For example, some animal feeds contain antibiotics and might flood into rivers with run-off, while other antibiotics are flushed or dumped down sinks and toilets in homes. Since many sewage treatment plants don’t effectively remove drugs, these compounds pass on and enter our waterways.
So, are flushed drugs a health concern? Take antibiotics for example. Once in a river, antibiotics might affect wildlife by killing off the normal microbes that are naturally found in the water and soil that form the basis of the local ecosystem. On the other hand, microbes may learn to live and reproduce in the presence of antibiotics: this is called developing antibiotic resistance.
At present, common household drugs are found in many lakes and rivers in very small concentrations, but we can do something to help. We can avoid throwing drugs down the drain and instead take them back to the pharmacy, hospital, or to a hazardous waste centers for safe disposal.