Push attempts to keep harmful chemicals out of water

May 21, 2010 1:03:59 PM PDT
A new push is underway to try and keep harmful chemicals out of Lake Michigan and out of drinking water.Many people may be contaminating the water with items thrown down drains or toilets.

On a warm, sunny day like Monday, Lake Michigan reveals its beauty. But beneath the surface is cause for concern, at least according to newspaper headlines. Monday's Sun Times report - their study showed traces of DEET in the water, that toxic bug repellent found in our drinking water.

"The challenge is it's at such a minute level right now that we're trying to forecast what it might become and how we can prevent any further chemicals from getting into our water sources," said Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago Environmental Commissioner.

That is precisely the kind of thing that environmental specialists are looking at all this week at the Shedd Aquarium. They are kicking off a campaign to make us aware of what we're putting into the water and what those chemicals, like DEET, are doing to ecosystems.

But environmentalists say there is even more reason to be concerned about something ending up in Lake Michigan after starting off in our medicine cabinets: They say prescription drugs flushed down the toilet are especially dangerous.

"It's important because when you throw pharmaceuticals of electronic waste out, it has the potential to leech out contaminants into the water supply and into the Great Lakes," said Mary Gade, Ill. Regional Administrator.

That's why they're launching an Earth Day challenge to collect one million pills and one million pounds of so-called e-waste to keep it from ending up in the lake and eventually into fish, wildlife and us.

To do your part of keep the waters pure, take your old medicines and even inhalers and thermometers to the Chicago Household Hazardous Waste facility on Goose Island this Saturday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

In response to the Chicago Sun-Times story about DEET in the water, the DEET industry released a statement saying the amount equals one drop in one and a half million gallons. The statement claims that that is not a dangerous level and that the chemical has a good safety record when used according to directions.

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