Special Report: Prescription for Pollution

It is a fact that our water and wastewater departments do not test for the presence of prescription medicines in our waterways. They say that is because the government does not require them to do so.

As a matter of fact, they don't even filter out the drugs in our water.

Nearly 11 million gallons of treated wastewater flows into the Oso Bay each day. It is clean enough to pass government standards, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good for the environment.

"The wastewater treatment plants are not designed to take prescription drugs out of the water. It's a pass through," Wastewater Director Foster Crowell said. "That prescription drug will pass through the effluent and will go into the bays and estuaries, and we don't want that to happen."

The Texas Pharmacy Association said at least 125 tons of prescription medicines are being dumped into our nation's waterways each year, adding that the drugs pose a serious health risk to children, pets and wildlife.

All of that medicine finds its way into our waters after people empty their old prescription medication into the toilet. Once flushed, those medicines show up in our waterways through the wastewater system. A total of 24 million gallons of the stuff is sent into the bays and estuaries.

"We do not test for that. It's not required by our permits to test for that," Crowell said. "Prescription drugs dissolve into the water supply."

Dr. Eugene Billiot, a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, has found evidence that pesticides, herbicides and industrial waste are showing up in our environment.

Billiot tested the sediment and waters up and down our state coastline for about 800 different compounds. He discovered about a hundred of them, and said that, while his research didn't take a look at medicines, others out there are starting to take notice of the dangers those drugs pose.

"Basically, what these endocrine disruptors do is interfere with the normal messaging system of the body," Billiot said. "If that gets messed up, the fetus doesn't grow up properly, so most of the interest in pharmaceuticals going down the drain is this particular issue. Is it affecting the fetus?"

The long-term effects of pharmaceutical drugs on our environment is not yet known. Until that solid proof is in, there is a big push to go ahead and stop the drugs from being thrown away in the first place.

Officials have not always just been worried about flushing prescription medicine down their toilets. They've also been worried about ships coming into U.S. ports with expired medicines. There have been reports that they used to simply throw those overboard.

The government now requires ships coming into a U.S. port to have a pharmacist remove all of their expired medicines. Drugs, if thrown into the water, could have lethal effects on the marine life.

"I don't want to think about it," pharmacist Ron Garza said. "I don't like to think about it."

Garza is one of those pharmacists who does the inspections on the ships coming to our port. He showed 3News all of the expired medicines that he has collected and boxed up.

"This one here, it's a generic valium injectible. I don't know what language this is, but I believe it's Chinese. Can you just imagine a fish getting a hold of this? And we eat fish," Garza said. "Can you imagine any marine animal getting ahold of this in their system? I can't fathom the kind of damage that could be caused by that."

Every three months or so, a disposal company goes to Deleon Pharmacy, and Garza turns over all the expired prescriptions to them. There are all kinds of drugs, including lindane, a shampoo for lice that isn't approved for use in the U.S. There are also vials of tramadol, a painkiller, and haldol.

"How about this one? Haldol, used to treat schizophrenia an anti-anxiety psyche medicine," Garza said. "It's an injectible, once again."

So how are you supposed to properly dispose of your old medications?

Well one of the safest ways is to drop by the Kiii-TV station this Saturday. We are hosting another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. It is an important step in keeping those drugs from ending up in the wrong place.

The event takes place from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you would like more information about this important event, click here.


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