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Drugs can now be discarded safely

Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Safely ridding one's home of medications can be a problem, but Benton County, with the help of the Bella Vista Police Department, has a new program designed to do just that.

Pyromed, a pharmaceutical incineration program started by Benton County, will turn the unwanted drugs and leave nothing but an ashen residue.

It was designed to protect the environment, prevent overdoses and errors and to keep drugs away from children, Justice of the Peace Beverly Williams of Bella Vista announced Monday.

The program allows people to drop off any unused over-the-counter or prescription products at either the Bella Vista Police station in Town Center beside the fire department, or a a central location in the Benton County administration building.

In Bella Vista, people can drop off their medicines 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Bella Vista police will incinerate them at 2000 degrees in their special incinerator.

A special courier box will be installed in the lobby where it will be monitored, said Bill Williams of Bella Vista. You can put things in it but you can't take them out. "It's just like a mailbox," said Williams, who is chairman of the Weather Watch committee which paid $ 650 for the receptacle. Weather Watch sells weather radios at the Police Department and uses the money raised from the sales for community projects.

People in Benton County can drop them into outdoor sealed buckets, said Jim Eker, director of Benton County Environmental Services. No one but the people putting their items in the container will know what the medicine is. "We won't inventory any of it," he said. The discussion about how to keep medications out of the water supply, which is what occurs when the drugs are flushed through the sewer system, or septic tanks, began last April, Benton County Judge Gary Black said.

Then, in January, Williams asked Bella Vista Police Chief and Justice of the Peace Jim Wozniak to be a member of the committee to help find the money to buy a drug incinerator.

He told her the Bella Vista Police Department already had one, the only such unit in Benton County.

Wozniak's interest in the incinerator came about following a talk with Bella Vistan Margie Grills, who asked him what to do with her bagful of unneeded prescription medications.

In late November the chief purchased the unit with money from an anonymous donor.

Bella Vista police officers used it to burn medications for the first time at the end of December. The Drug Terminator will burn up the unused drugs safely without polluting the environment, Wozniak said.

According to the Web site www. drugterminator. com, the burner reduces the medication to 1 percent ash, sterilizes any noncombustible material so it is safe for landfills, and burns clean and smoke free.

Incinerating medications is much safer than flushing them down the toilet.

"Don't flush them down the stool," Nancy Busen of the Bentonville Waste Water Treatment. "We get a toxic soup of those. We don't know what they're going to do."

Research in Northwest Arkansas, which began in 2004 by the U. S. Geological Survey, has found water supplies contaminated with medications, said Joel Galloway, a hydrologist with the U. S. Geological Survey Arkansas Water Science Center.

They found 13 types of pharmaceuticals in several northwest Arkansas streams. They also tested Blowing Springs and found an antibiotic and a pesticide in the water. They chose Blowing Springs because of all the septic tanks in Bella Vista, Galloway said.

Finding these contaminants in the water is a new problem for aquatic resources, Darrell Bowman, Bella Vista lakes ecologist said. "It's not natural, and it's probably not good."

Bowman gave several examples of fish in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in the eastern U. S. being affected by the pharmaceuticals in the water. The fish in these historic rivers would be either all males or all females. With only one sex, the fish could not be reproduce, creating a very bad situation for sports fishing and the economy, he said.

"Let's just not let it get there," he said.

The first official collection will be from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Benton County Administration Building. People do not have to remove the labels and should just leave the medicine in the containers because the incinerator will burn everything up. There is no follow-up collection scheduled at this time.

While the county will offer occasional chances to drop off medicine, people can bring them any time to the Bella Vista Police Department at 105 Town Center.
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