Another source of contamination of the Lower
Chippewa River is trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical refers to any type of medicinal
drug. This includes both prescription and non-prescription medications. Pharmaceuticals can enter waterways like the
Lower Chippewa River by improperly disposing of old or unwanted medications. It is a common misconception that flushing
old or unwanted medications or dumping them down the drain is an acceptable method of
disposal. Trace amounts of medications end up in our water supply because they are NOT
filtered out at wastewater treatment facilities. In Boulder, Colorado, scientists conducted
research on the Boulder Creek, near the effluent of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The effluent is the site where water is discharged from the treatment plant into a body of water. The suspicion of detectable levels of hormones,
along with other pharmaceuticals being released in the effluent, led scientists to sample
a species of fish called white suckers. This species of fish is also found in the Lower
Chippewa River. Samples were taken at a site 2 kilometers
upstream from the effluent and 200 meters downstream from the effluent. Fish tested
downstream had decreased sperm abundance and disrupted ovarian development. Fish tested
upstream showed no evidence of reproductive disruption. We cannot be sure that these same reproductive
disruptions are not happening to the aquatic life in the Lower Chippewa River because there
are currently NO standards in place by the EPA for pharmaceutical regulation in wastewater
treatment facilities. Every day in the city of Eau Claire, 6 million
gallons of water are treated in our wastewater treatment facility. Currently, some of the processes that our
water goes through as it makes its way through the plant include treatments for: organics,
solids, pH, heavy metals, ammonia and phosphorus. At the Eau Claire Wastewater Treatment Plant,
the water moves through a series of settling tanks to remove particles and is then treated
with good bacteria which ‘eat up’ any remaining contaminants. From May to September
the water is chlorinated and dechlorinated before it is released into the Chippewa River
to ensure the safety of the public, who are using the river recreationally. After passing through the many stages of treatment,
the treated wastewater is eventually returned to the Chippewa River via an underwater pipe
located underneath the I-94 overpass. However, there is something that you, as a
community member, can do to help alleviate the growing problem of pharmaceuticals polluting
the waterways. The Prescription Drug Disposal Program in Eau Claire County offers free disposal
of unwanted or unused medications including: prescription drugs, over the counter medications,
vials, inhalers, sprays and also pet medicines. There are four convenient disposal locations
in Eau Claire County, where community members can dispose of their medications for free.
For more information regarding the disposal program, contact Eau Claire County Planning
and Development. A pharmaceutical disposal program such as
the one we have in place in Eau Claire County is the best method for keeping the Lower Chippewa
River clean. We urge you look in your medicine cabinet today and take any old or unwanted
medications to your local drop off site.

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