Down the Drain, Into Your Water

Down the Drain, Into Your Water

There are a lot of elements in our daily lives that we don’t spend time reflecting upon. We buy food from our local grocery, but what was the process to get that fresh fruit on the shelf? We flip on the light switch when we walk into a dark room, but how did the light turn on? We turn on our sinks and flush the toilet, but how do we know that the water we use is clean? Before we spend too much time trying to figure out how we have accessible food, electricity and water, we usually pay our bills and move on to the next topic on our agenda. 

Sugar Land North wastewater treatment plant
Sugar Land North Wastewater Treatment Plant

However, having reliable clean water is not a simple process. In fact, wastewater treatment is complex and affects everyone’s daily routines. Imagine if you didn’t have an efficient wastewater system to service your home.  

What you pour and rinse down the drain can impact our environment, which in turn impacts us. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wastewater treatment facilities in the United States process approximately 34 billion gallons of wastewater every day.  

It’s easy to assume that wastewater treatment plants can handle anything that gets flushed down the toilet. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to “flushable” wipes as an alternative to the hard-to-find toilet paper. However, toilets, septic systems and wastewater treatment plants are designed to handle water, waste, and easily degradable toilet paper. Trash can interfere with the processes at waste treatment plants. Because of that, many have screening systems to filter sewage before treatment.

Aside from flushable wipes, another long-standing issue for wastewater treatments are medicines. While water treatment plants can remove some chemicals, they are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals. Neither sewage wastewater treatment plants, septic systems or drinking water treatment plants are currently designed to remove pharmaceuticals from water. 

Temple Belton wastewater treatment plant
Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant

But how does medicine end up at wastewater treatment plants in the first place?

The answer may seem obvious, often people flush unused medications down the drain.  However, in a USGS study, scientists found that pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities can be a significant source of pharmaceuticals found in the environment. Pharmaceuticals that are found in water sources can also be traced back to medications used on livestock and human medicine.  

The USGS states that more than 4,000 prescription medications used for humans and animals ultimately find their way into the environment, especially local bodies of water. As these chemicals make their way into aquatic environments, they can affect the health and behavior of wildlife, including insects, fish and birds. Research shows that while there may be ecological harm when certain drugs are present, so far, no evidence has been found of human health effects. 

An effective way to reduce the amount of chemicals in our water is by curbing household disposal of pharmaceuticals into our water systems. National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is April 24, a safe and effective way for you to safely dispose of prescription drugs. 

If you have old medicine that you need to dispose of, find a collection site near you by clicking here. You can also dispose of medications by taking them to a local pharmacy. Do not flush medications down the toilet.  

By properly disposing of your prescribed medications, you can help conserve our water resources and protect ecological health for years to come.