By Jackie Underhill
What are PAHs? Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH s) is the scientific name for coal tar and other similar substances. Coal tar is a black, viscous waste product derived from the distillation of coal during the production of steel. Driveway sealants, vehicle emissions, crude oil and power plants are all sources of PAH s. PAH s have been known as a probable human carcinogen since the 19th century, when cancer struck chimney sweeps. You may be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with our lake?” Well, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have recently concluded that PAH s are contaminating lakes throughout the country. Coal-tar-based sealants were found to contribute more than half of the PAH s found in the lakes studied. Undoubtedly, driveway sealants are being used within our watershed and may pose a danger to our lake in the future.
How could PAHs end up in our lake?
Driveway sealant breaks down into a fine dust due to the effects of weather and normal wear and tear associated with a driveway. The wind can move the dust everywhere and, when it rains, the particles get carried to nearby rivers and streams. Eventually the PAH particles could end up in our lake. Since the particles are heavier than water, they sink to the bottom and get mixed into the sediment. PAH s are toxic to fish and other aquatic plant and animal life.
What can you do?
If you have an asphalt driveway, apply sealants only when needed or not at all. If necessary, purchase sealant products that do not contain coal tar. RustOleum’s Professional Blacktop Coating claims to not contain coal-tar or asphalt. Better yet, if your driveway is not paved, make a conscious decision not to do so in the future. Alternatives to paving are bluestone driveways and pervious pavement, which allows rain water to soak through it and does not require sealants. As wise stewards we must all continue to become aware of potential problems, such as the sealant phenomenon, and choose alternative products when available for the health of our lake.
What are PPCPs?
Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) refers, in general, to any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock. PPCPs comprise a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, lotions and cosmetics. The discovery of PPCPs in water and soil shows even simple activities like shaving, using lotion or taking medication affect the environment in which you live. Studies have shown that PPCPs are present in our nation’s water bodies. Further research suggests that certain drugs may cause ecological harm.
How could PPCPs end up in our lake?
PPCPs have probably been present in water and the environment for as long as humans have been using them. The drugs that we take are not entirely absorbed by our bodies and are excreted and passed into wastewater (sewer or septic) systems and surface waters (lakes, ponds and streams). Externally-applied drugs and personal care products are washed down the shower drain. Improper disposal of drugs, such as flushing them down the toilet, also contributes to the problem. Both municipal and private wastewater systems are relatively ineffective at removing PPCPs from the environment. Ultimately these pollutants end up in our aquifer and could end up in our lake. PPCPs in the environment are frequently found in aquatic environments because PPCPs dissolve easily and don’t evaporate at normal temperature and pressures.
What can you do?
Proper disposal of PPCPs is the easiest way to minimize your impact on the environment. Your first choice is to return unwanted or expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs to a drug take-back program. The Grantham Police Dept. is hosting a Drug Take Back Day on April 28, 2012 and has another one scheduled for the fall.
Your second choice is to follow these steps for household disposal*:
1. Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.
2. Mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
3. Put them in a sealable container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
4. Place the sealed container with the drug mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.
PAH s and PPCPs belong to a class of man-made chemicals referred to as “emerging contaminants.” Scientists continue to study them for their harmful effects on the environment and, ultimately, on humans. Be aware of the potential harmful side effects of the products you use in your daily lives and choose wisely!www.nhlakes.org.