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By Jennifer Turner , Staff Writter
Judge says streams and wildlife could be overdosing on flushed drugs
BENTONVILLE -- While poultry litter usually gets all the attention when it comes to polluting northwest Arkansas groundwater, Benton County Judge Gary Black wants to focus on another possible contaminate - pharmaceuticals that get flushed down toilets.

" Medications are flushed down the toilet every day, and they can and do find their way into our nation's waterways every day, " Black said. " Our sewage treatment plants are not equipped to take the drugs out of our wastewater. "

The drugs and certain mixtures of the drugs could potentially harm the environment, particularly fish and wildlife, he said.

Black hosted a meeting Thursday morning with local pharmacists, water-quality specialists, law- enforcement representatives and municipal wastewater treatment-plant operators and others to decide if the issue is worth pursuing.

The group of 16 voted unanimously to investigate ways to properly dispose of medications. They formed an eight-member committee to take on that task.

The U. S. Geological Survey, in conjunction with the University of Arkansas and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, determined in a 2004 study that out of seven streams studied in north Arkansas, all but Spavinaw Creek near Maysville contained trace amounts of at least one pharmaceutical or other organic contaminant.

Joel Galloway, of the USGS, said the number of detections was generally greater at sites downstream from wastewater treatment plants. Overall, 42 of the 108 contaminants targeted were detected in the water samples. The most frequently detected substances were phenol (an antiseptic / anesthetic ingredient ), caffeine, para cresol (an antiseptic that can be used in a variety of things, from fragrances to gasoline additives ) and acetyl tetrahydronaphthalene (which is used to enhance the aroma of perfumes in such items a detergents and hair preparations ).

The full extent of the effects of these drugs on the environment are not yet known, but scientists are finding some negative effects, particularly in fish, Galloway said.

The group determined Thursday there is no easy way to dispose of pharmaceuticals properly because once a drug is in the hands of the prescribed person, the drugs belong to that person and cannot change hands unless those hands are of law enforcement. Even when a person dies, his or her medications are left to the family.

" The medications belong to the family, and that's been our recommendation . to flush it . and we have been in error in doing that, " Benton County Sheriff's deputy Doug Gay said.

The newly formed committee will meet again June 17 to further discuss the need for a new disposal method and what that method might be.

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