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Why Government Environmental Agencies Matter 

Watching over us and our homes

DEQ scientist taking water samples.
  • DEQ scientist taking water samples.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is a state agency designed to help keep our planet Earth—and us—healthy. For one, DEQ encourages Oregonians to take part in a nationwide effort to collect unused, unwanted or expired medications so they can be disposed of properly. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day event took place last month.

Last year, Americans turned in 366 tons (over 730,000 pounds) of prescription drugs at almost 5,200 sites operated by the Drug Enforcement Agency and more than 4,000 of its state and local law enforcement partners. Overall, in its previous Take-Back events, DEA and its partners have taken in over 7.1 million pounds—more than 3,500 tons—of pills. The collection events help people dispose of drugs in a way that's safe for both people and the environment. Even with these events, many drugs pass through wastewater treatment filtering systems, so flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet or drain ends up polluting waterways.

For people unable to take part in the events, more than 80 law enforcement offices in Oregon accept unwanted and unused drugs throughout the year. For a list of these sites, visit oracwa.org or contact your local police department or county sheriff's office for more information.

A local DEQ fine

DEQ issued Contact Industries a $6,600 penalty for allegedly performing unlicensed asbestos abatement work at its facility on North Main Street in Prineville. DEQ stated the company employees removed approximately 185 square feet of sheet vinyl flooring from the site in November. Later testing showed the flooring material contained asbestos. According to DEQ, Contact Industries notified DEQ of the asbestos disturbance and a licensed asbestos abatement contractor arrived to assess and decontaminate the affected area.

However, DEQ says the company violated state law by conducting an asbestos abatement project without being a licensed asbestos abatement contractor and without notifying DEQ. The company is said to have also mishandled asbestos-containing material and failed to properly manage and secure that material.

The problem with asbestos

In the event you don't know, or have forgotten why asbestos is such a villain in the area of human health, here's a reminder. Asbestos is the name given to several naturally-occurring fibrous minerals that are very strong, durable and heat-resistant. Because of these properties, asbestos has been used in the manufacture of a wide range of construction materials, such as roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, adhesives and cement siding, along with safety textiles, as well as friction products such as automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts.

Exposure to asbestos increases our risk of developing lung disease. The fibers become embedded and accumulate in lung tissue over time, and to make that even more deadly, there is no known safe level for human exposure to asbestos. Therefore, contact with any amount of asbestos should be avoided. Symptoms from asbestos-related problems may take several years to develop. The most common asbestos-related lung disease is asbestosis, a serious, progressive, long-term non-cancer disease of the lungs caused by inhaling asbestos fibers that irritate lung tissues and cause the tissues to scar, which makes it difficult for oxygen to get into the blood.

A Portland DEQ fine

click to enlarge health-capsules-tablets-pharmacy-medicines-1797127.jpg

Then there are the chemicals getting into our environment. DEQ recently issued a $6,421 civil penalty to Solaicx, Inc., a company that manufactures and sells solar arrays, for failing to comply with the monitoring requirements of their permit for the facility located on N. Leadbetter Road. in Portland. According to DEQ scientists, the facility failed to collect monitoring data for iron discharge in the 2015 and 2016 monitoring period.

They are required to sample and monitor storm water to ensure discharges meet the benchmarks set forth in their permit. (To make everything work as planned, the system that protects water quality in Oregon is highly dependent upon permittees complying with the monitoring requirements of the permits.) Without consistent and accurate data, DEQ and the public can't determine whether permittees are complying with pollutant limits. To make it even worse, having a limit to how much pollutants can be legally discharged into our environment is already a serious risk, no matter how you look at it.

That, from a scientific viewpoint of unwanted medications, drugs and required environmental monitoring is why it is so vital to pubic safety that there is an agency set up to collect and destroy chemicals and medications for public health. Our tax money going to a place that protects us from ourselves.

Prescription Drug Drop-off Locations

Bend Police Department 555 NE 15th Ave., Bend

Redmond Police Department 777 SW Deschutes Ave., Redmond

Deschutes County Sheriff's Offices Bend, Terrebonne, Sisters and La Pine



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