Prescription drugs may be polluting our drinking water

“Pollution from prescription drugs threatens public health and the safety of drinking water."


Prescription drugs are more expensive than many people can afford and have caused thousands of years of life lost due to addiction but now they may even be polluting our drinking water.

Researchers at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that there are traces of prescription medications in water two miles from Milwaukee’s treated wastewater outfalls, reports the Wisconsin Examiner.

Unused prescription medications that are disposed of either via trash or flushed out to Lake Michigan are becoming a serious problem for drinking water. Opioids especially, of which 1.2 billion were dispersed in Winsconsin between 2006 and 2012 alone, can only be exacerbating the problem.

“When unused drugs are thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet they end up in Lake Michigan, the source of Milwaukee’s drinking water,” says Amber Myer Smith, Vice President of Programs and Government Relations at Clean Wisconsin. “Drop boxes are the key to keeping pharmaceutical contaminants out of our drinking water.”

Clean Wisconsin, along with Gov. Tony Evers and Take Back My Meds, believe that a network of drop boxes for unused prescription pills throughout the state should be implemented in order to minimize the environmental impact of their disposal.

Wisconsin is not the only place that researchers have found traces of medications in waterways, however. Last year scientists at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found that shellfish from the waters off Seattle were testing positive for opioids, antidepressants, chemotherapy drugs, and other painkillers.

Although some of the contamination comes from human excretion (wastewater management systems can’t entirely filter out drugs), the sheer number of consumed prescription drugs along with improper disposal of those not being consumed spells disaster for public and environmental health.


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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.