Friday, March 14, 2008
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Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to Strengthen Drinking Water Protections

Illinois EPA to Assess Presence of Pharmaceuticals in Water Supplies and to Promote Disposal Alternatives

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[March 14, 2008]  CHICAGO -- Following reports that found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the nation's drinking water, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced Wednesday that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is expanding its current monitoring of water quality to include sampling to determine levels of pharmaceuticals that may be in Illinois waterways. The Illinois EPA also will promote additional alternatives to dispose of over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs and personal care products, to ultimately reduce the amount of unregulated chemicals in drinking water systems.

This week, the Associated Press reported the results of a five-month-long inquiry that found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas -- from Southern California to northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky. (See article.) Even though the U.S. Geological Survey's research finds that the concentrations of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies are likely far below levels to prompt public health concerns, the governor directed the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to further assess the effects of these substances on human health.

"Safe drinking water is the highest priority. Even though reports indicate the concentration of unregulated chemicals found in the nation's water sources was low, we can't take any chances. The additional research we do now and the steps we take today will help us further protect our health and the health of our children," said Blagojevich.

While there are no federal standards regulating pharmaceuticals in drinking water, the Illinois EPA will expand its testing of water supplies through a partnership with the city of Chicago to better determine the presence of such chemicals in the city's drinking water. Illinois EPA will also offer testing to communities downstream from wastewater treatment plants that may be affected.

Within the next few weeks, Illinois EPA will begin collecting samples of treated and untreated water from participating water systems and will coordinate laboratory analysis to determine the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water supplies. Both the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health will review the lab results to assess any possible risk to public health.

"While Illinois' drinking water is safe and there is no cause for immediate concern, the Illinois EPA will assess the scope of the presence of pharmaceuticals in our waterways to ensure that our drinking water supplies are adequately protected," said Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott. "We will also push for further study to determine the health effects of low-level exposure to these substances. At the same time, the Illinois EPA will continue to offer safe disposal methods to keep the medications and other products we rely on to improve our health out of our drinking water supplies."

In addition to expanded testing, the Illinois EPA will continue to push for more evaluation of the human health effects of unregulated pharmaceuticals in drinking water supplies. At a Great Lakes meeting planned for later this month in Indianapolis, the Illinois EPA director will work with other Great Lakes state environmental officials to call for more federal evaluation of these chemicals. The Illinois EPA will assist the U.S. EPA in developing any new regulations needed to protect public health under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Illinois EPA will also expand a pharmaceutical disposal program it launched last summer with several county health departments to collect old and unwanted pharmaceuticals. As part of the current pilot program, solid waste agencies in Kendall, Will, Knox and McDonough counties and in Galesburg collect unused drugs from senior centers, retirement complexes and convalescent centers in their areas. The Illinois EPA provides the disposal containers to the counties. Since the pilot program launched, Illinois EPA has removed six 30-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals from the environment through the four pilot programs.

The Illinois EPA will invite Cook County and Chicago to join the collection program and encourage other county solid waste agencies to create similar drug collection programs to prevent drugs from being flushed down the drain and possibly ending up in drinking water supplies. Illinois EPA will provide technical assistance to any solid waste agency interested in creating such a program.

In addition, Illinois EPA will continue collecting unused pharmaceuticals at its household hazardous waste collections, conducted across the state each spring and fall. (See schedule below.) Residents are advised to save all old or unwanted medications for an Illinois EPA-sponsored household hazardous waste collection. At such an event last year, seven 55-gallon drums of pharmaceuticals were collected and properly disposed of.

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The Illinois EPA advises people to not flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet or pour them down the drain, because wastewater treatment plants and septic systems are not designed to treat pharmaceutical waste, and the drugs often end up in our waterways and ultimately in our drinking water. Instead, residents should save old or unwanted medications for an Illinois EPA-sponsored household hazardous waste collection.

In the event that citizens cannot attend one of the agency's household hazardous waste collections, four permanent household hazardous waste collection facilities in Rockford, Naperville, Chicago and Lake County also accept pharmaceutical waste. (See below.) In addition, many hospitals, pharmacies and police departments also offer programs to collect and dispose of unwanted drugs.

To discourage illegal and unsafe ingestion of discarded pharmaceuticals, the state encourages people to remove unused or unneeded drugs from their original containers, mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in nondescript impermeable containers, such as empty cans.

For more information on the agency's household hazardous waste collection or how to manage and dispose of prescription drugs, please visit or call the Illinois EPA's Waste Reduction Unit at 217-785-8604.


Disposing of Unwanted, Unused Pharmaceuticals

Illinois EPA-Recommended Handling and Disposal Options for Households

REDUCE pharmaceutical waste whenever possible.

  • Use all antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Not using all doses of an antibiotic could lead to development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

  • Buy an amount that can reasonably be used before the expiration date.

  • Ask your doctor to prescribe only enough to see if a new medication will work for you and in the lowest dose advisable.

DISPOSE of the remainder properly.

  • Whenever possible, take your unused pharmaceuticals to a pharmaceutical collection program or event. Illinois EPA sponsors household hazardous waste collections. Scheduled collection events are listed at
    . Note: If you choose to store your waste while you wait for a pharmaceutical collection event, please minimize the risk of accidental poisoning or overdose by storing medications out of reach of children or in a locked cabinet.

  • If you dispose of your unused pharmaceuticals in the trash, be sure to do the following:

    • Remove or mark over all labels that identify the materials as pharmaceuticals or that could provide personal information about you, including prescription information.

    • Render them unattractive to children and thieves by dissolving them in a small amount of water or alcohol or by mixing or grinding them up with coffee grounds or kitty litter.

    • Put them in a secondary container or small plastic bag and hide them in your trash.

    • Never burn pharmaceuticals or personal care products in a burn barrel. Uncontrolled burning can create dioxins and other toxic air pollutants.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

Spring 2008 Household Hazardous Waste Collections

On the Web:





April 19

Cook County

DeVry Technical Institute
3300 N. Campbell

Chicago Department of Environment

April 19

Alexander County

Maintenance Yard
105 Sixth St.


April 26

LaSalle County

City parking lot
1100 Meriden St.


May 3

Peoria County

Exposition Gardens
1601 W. Northmoor Road

Peoria, County of Peoria Recycling and Resource Conservation

May 3

DuPage County

Public Works Facility
985 S. Riverside Drive

Elmhurst, DuPage County

May 17

St. Charles
Kane County

Kane County Fairgrounds
(Enter on Oak Street west of Randall Road)

Kane County Department of Environment

May 31

Chicago Heights
Cook County

Parking lot
1020 Dixie Highway

Chicago Heights

June 7

Old Valmeyer
Monroe County

Parking lot
Lake Road and Route 156

Monroe-Randolph Bi-County Health Department, Valmeyer High School Science Club

June 21

Cook County


Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago


Long-Term Facilities Available for Disposal of Household Hazardous Waste

On the Web:


1971 Brookdale Road, Fire Station 4
Phone 630-420-4190
For more information:


Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility
150 N. North Branch on Goose Island
Phone 311 or for general info: 312-744-7672
For more information:


Rock River Reclamation District
3333 Kishwaukee
Phone 815-987-5570

Lake County

The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County currently operates a long-term household chemical waste collection program. Information and a collection schedule can be found at, or call 847-336-9340.

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