Scientists have long been aware of the potential environment impacts that stem from the use and disposal of the array of products people use to keep themselves healthy, clean and smelling nice. Now a new concern is emerging – improper disposal of pet care products and pills.
Dog shampoos, heartworm medicine, flea and tick sprays, and prescription and over-the-counter medicines increasingly are finding their way into landfills and waterways, posing a water quality and environmental health risk. Researchers at Oregon State University say that, with an estimated 68 percent of American households owning at least one pet, the scope of the potential problem is large.
Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University, has launched a survey of veterinary professionals and pet owners to to get a better idea of the scope of the issue. If you live in the United States or Canada, you can contribute to his survey here.
The purpose of the survey is to determine how aware people are about the disposal of “pharmaceutical and personal care products” (PPCPs) for both themselves and their pets plus their general awareness of the environmental issues.
“You can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of these products,” Chan said. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”
Increasingly, Chan said, a suite of PPCPs used by pets and people are being detected at low levels in surface water and groundwater. Examples include anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, the insect repellent DEET, and ultraviolet (UV) sunblock compounds.
For example, coal tar which is used in pet medicines and shampoos for skin treatment is an endocrine disruptor.
When medicines are no longer needed, the research team encourages owners to take the drugs and medications back to their pharmacy or veterinarian for proper disposal in a drug collection program. Placing unwanted medications in the rubbish means that they are an uncontrolled source in landfills, where leaching and runoff are mechanisms to enter the environment.