EPA's Great Lakes 2008 Earth Day Challenge

CHICAGO, Illinois, March 14, 2008 (ENS) – For Earth Day 2008, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes region invites public help to collect at least one million pounds of electronic waste and one million pills. The EPA is encouraging organizations, businesses and communities in the Great Lakes region to protect the environment by sponsoring collections of unwanted medicines and electronic waste around Earth Day, April 22.

“The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable treasure,” said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager Mary Gade. “They are the largest source of fresh drinking water on Earth and are vital to commerce and recreation in the upper Midwest. Responsible recycling and disposal of unwanted electronics and medicines will prevent contaminants from polluting the Great Lakes basin.”

The EPA has partnered with the nonprofit group Earth 911 to launch an online clearinghouse of collection events that will be held between April 19 and 27. As dates and locations for events are confirmed they will be added to the clearinghouse at www.earth911.org.

“EPA is pleased that Earth 911 volunteered to work with us on this important project and we welcome other organizations that may wish to join us by sponsoring or publicizing collection events,” said Gade.

Used consumer electronics represent less than two percent of the municipal solid waste stream. In 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, discarded TVs, computers, printers, scanners, faxes, mice, keyboards and cell phones totaled about two million tons. About 85 percent of that amount was discarded in landfills.

Lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants are among the substances of concern in electronics. These substances can cause contaminate the environment if the products are not properly managed at end of life.

Lead is used in glass in TV and PC cathode ray tubes as well as solder and interconnects; older CRTs typically contain on average four pounds of lead, while newer CRTs contain closer to two pounds of lead.

Mercury is used in small amount in bulbs to light flat panel computer monitors and notebooks.

Brominated flame retardants are widely used in plastic cases and cables. The EPA says the more problematic ones have been phased out of newer products but remain in older products.

Cadmium was widely used in ni-cad rechargeable batteries for laptops and other portables. Newer batteries, such as nickel-metal hydride and lithium ion batteries, do not contain cadmium.

Unwanted pills can contaminate the aquatic
environment. (Photo courtesy
American Pharmacists Association)

In streams and rivers across the country, scientists are finding detectable concentrations of pharmaceuticals and personal care products such as fragrances. In one recent study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey found that the concentration of many of these chemicals, such as the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole, the antimicrobial agent triclosan used in soaps, and caffeine, increased downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Few of the detected compounds exceeded water quality standards; however, many do not have water quality standards.

Individuals add pharmaceuticals and personal care products to the environment through excretion and bathing, and disposal of unwanted medications to sewers and trash. Proper disposal of drugs is a straightforward way for individuals to prevent pollution.

Risks of exposure to pharmaceuticals is much greater for aquatic organisms than for humans. For instance, the EPA says, “Dramatic inhibition of sperm activity in certain aquatic organisms can be affected by calcium-channel blockers.”

To keep these substances from contaminating the Great Lakes region, the EPA is asking people to participate in the Great Lakes 2008 Earth Day Challenge.

“I’m asking people to clear out their desk drawers, medicine cabinets and basements and properly recycle or dispose of their old and unwanted cellphones, computers, TVs, and medicines at a local collection,” said Gade.

Participating organizations should register their events at: www.epa.gov. The website includes a “Plug-In to E-cycling” tool kit to help plan collection events.

For more information or technical assistance on planning an event, call the EPA’s toll-free Earth Day Challenge Hotline at 866-575-8543.

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