Education Can Be an Active Thing

While the Associated Press was spending five months tracking down the presence of pharmaceuticals in treated drinking water, Paul Ritter's and Eric Bohm's students have been developing a program to return unused prescription drugs to their community's pharmacies.

In the town of Pontiac, Ill., population just under 12,000, Ecology and Illinois Studies students at Pontiac Township High School conducted hours of research and enlisted the help of local officials from Illinois American Water's Tim Tuley, Pontiac's Street Superintendent Chris Brock, and Mayor Scott McCoy. Using the research, students made presentations to pharmacies at K-mart, Sartoris Super Drugs, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart. They were able to persuade the retailers to allow customers to return unused prescription drugs for safe and proper disposal. According to Ritter, the program already has gained the attention of the Florida Environmental Protection Agency and the Product Stewardship Institute.

Pontiac is lucky. Its students are willing to be part of a solution. Their instructors get credit, too, of course. (Ritter, the ecology teacher, has won more than 10 Governor's awards. In 2004 and 2002, his classes won with projects on billboards to increase environmental awareness and storm sewer-stenciling, respectively.)

Ritter sent me an email about this latest project on March 4. The AP story broke just six days later.

The great thing about all of this is that Ritter seems passionate about his work. He writes: "Mr. Bohm and I are willing to assist all of those who are interested in getting started with a prescription drug disposal program of their own." Wow. What a generous offer.

Sometimes I just want to go back to school.

Footnote: Since January, Pontiac's program has collected about 80 pounds of actual prescription drugs (not containers), which are disposed of by incineration.

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Mar 31, 2008