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Frog Friday: Don’t Flush it Down! Medications and Personal Care Products Down the Drain Spell Trouble for Frogs and Other Wildlife

If you’ve been following our #FrogFriday articles, you probably know by now that water quality is critically important to healthy frog populations, but did you know that the way you dispose of medications and personal care products can impact water quality and the health of frogs? A 2000 nationwide study found that 80% of the rivers and streams sampled by US Geological Survey were found to contain low levels of various medications. Septic systems and most wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceutical chemicals from the water. Consequently, when old or unused medications get flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain, they eventually enter aquatic habitats and this has been impacting wildlife. Studies have shown that even trace amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals in the water have adverse effects on frogs, fish, and other aquatic wildlife. Some of the observed impacts on wildlife include delayed metamorphosis in frogs; altered reproductive systems in frogs and fish; delayed reproductive development and reduced fertility in fish; abnormal hormone levels; impaired immune systems; and structural and neurological damage.

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Hand soaps containing microbeads. Photo by: Chip Weiskotten, © Wildlife Conservation Society

A newly emerging water quality issue affecting frogs and other wildlife is the growing abundance of plastic microbeads in aquatic habitats. Microbeads are the tiny little plastic beads that look like colorful little dots floating in many personal care products such as liquid hand soaps, face wash, body wash, and toothpaste. They are too minute to be filtered out at waste water treatment plants, so they escape and get washed out into aquatic environments. Once in open water, microbeads resemble insect eggs and other food sources to fish and other wildlife who may consume them.  When consumed by wildlife, microbeads can damage their digestive systems, cause liver toxicity, and disrupt endocrine systems. Chemical pollutants that may be present in the water can accumulate on the surface of microbeads, so even wildlife not directly feeding on them are at risk when they consume prey that have eaten the beads and absorbed the chemical toxins into their bodies.

How to Help

Protect frogs and other wildlife from pharmaceuticals by taking these simple actions recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • DO NOT FLUSH unused or old medications down the toilet and DO NOT POUR them down a sink or drain! (Except in the instance that the prescription drug labeling or patient information specifically instructs you to do so.)
  • Take unwanted medications to a collection program where they will be properly destroyed.
    • Click here to find a DEA authorized collection program near you.
    • Or drop them off at a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day collection site, which occurs this year on September 26th, 10am-2pm. Visit the link above to find a location near you.
  • Safely dispose of your medicines with these 4 easy  tips from the FDA (Use if the above programs are unavailable in your area):
    1. Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag or a leak-proof container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub.

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      FDA photo by Michael J. Ermarth, illustrating proper medication disposal.

    2. Add an unpalatable substance to the plastic bag to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat, such as kitty litter, sawdust, used coffee grounds, dirt, or soil.
    3. Seal the plastic bag/ container and put it in the trash, preferably as close to pick-up day as possible.
    4. Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information on the prescription label of medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Protect frogs and other wildlife from microbead pollution by taking these simple actions:

  • Shop Smart! Avoid purchasing personal care products that contain microbeads. Look for tiny little dots suspended in the products and check ingredients labels for polyethylene and polypropylene, which mean that the product contains plastic.
  • Spread awareness about microbead pollution! Share this information with others.

For more information on the issue of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in our water, please visit the following webpages on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s website.

greentreefrog-heart4This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • September 4, 2015