Letter to the Editor

Thirty-eighth Earth Day focuses on disposal

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

To the editor:

Soon after America celebrated its first national Earth Day in 1970, the country faced an energy crisis.

I remember shortages at fueling stations and the endless lines that ensued. Instead of accepting this as a way of life, Americans began to pay attention to their consumption of energy at the pumps and in their homes. We began turning off lights when leaving a room, we started recognizing the value of reducing the amount of garbage we were contributing to landfills, and we started embarking on efforts to recycle.

Fast forward 38 years and the Earth Day concept has expanded exponentially across the country. While we still worry about our consumption of energy and dependence on fossil fuels, our enlightened awareness has allowed us to focus on how to properly dispose of additional items including electronic waste and unwanted pharmaceuticals.

Electronic equipment such as cell phones, computers, circuit boards, batteries, and televisions have greatly benefitted society. But their improper disposal creates havoc on the ecosystem because they contain trace amounts of hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium. Improper disposal can result in the substances being released into the environment. Just as electronic devices are important in our daily lives, so are medications as they relieve an array of illnesses. However, leftover pharmaceutical products, whether in liquid or solid form, cause problems once they are disbursed into the environment.

Our wastewater facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceutical waste. In addition, pets and children can be poisoned from accidental ingestion of medicines carelessly thrown away, and patient information displayed on discarded containers poses an increased risk of identity theft.

As a result, all of these items should be disposed of with the same attention as hazardous waste materials. Some reminders to consider:

* Never pour medications down the drain or toilet. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if they will accept unwanted or expired pharmaceuticals.

* Never give or sell unwanted or expired medicines to family or friends.

* Take unwanted medicines and electronic equipment to special collections in your community.

* Consider donating used electronic equipment.

Let's take time to celebrate how far we've come since 1970, to think about where we are and to consider where we are going. The celebration of Earth Day has never lost its luster as a reminder that we must all do our part to take care of the Earth. Additional information can be found at http://www.idem.IN.gov

Thomas Easterly,

IDEM commissioner