Shelley Cabrera is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago with a B.S. in environmental science. She is now an O.R.I.S.E. (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) intern working in conjunction with the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office and IISG. Here is her post:

As an intern I have the opportunity to learn about effective product stewardship and a wide range of environmental issues. In turn I am able to pass this knowledge on to others, and provide them with tools and resources needed to make a difference in their communities and their own lives. More specifically, in the realm of product stewardship, we are concentrating our efforts on the proper disposal of pharmaceutical and electronic waste. Just last week I was able to speak with a representative of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative who intends to relay, to participating mayors and local officials, information on how to implement ongoing PPCP (pharmaceutical and personal care product) collection programs in their cities. Knowing that cities throughout the Great Lakes basin and the rest of the country want to take charge of the situation is reassuring; unfortunately others are not as fortunate.

Recently, an AP article highlighted the Iska Vagu stream in Patancheru, India that is so polluted with pharmaceuticals that “enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.” Some of the possible consequences of these unregulated releases include cell growth failure, harm to reproductive systems, and the promotion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As if the degradation is not enough, the Iska Vagu stream acts as the only water source to many of the villages downstream. The villagers and manufacturing facilities upstream that are releasing these high concentration residues know that the river is highly contaminated, yet not much has been done either due to apathy or inability. This story is a sad reminder of the consequences a lack of product stewardship can have on the environment and communities. I am pleased to be a part of the effort to make sure that an incident like this one does not happen in the Great Lakes.

In line with protecting our environment, IISG’s Disposal of Unwanted Medicines: A Resource for Your Community toolkit has been sent to locations throughout the U.S,, even to Canada and New Zealand! Whether it is helping an individual, group or local government set up their own collection event, increasing awareness among the general public through education and outreach is imperative to changing the way we think about our everyday actions. In fact, I was able to pass on educational materials to a Montessori grade school teacher (who happens to be my aunt), after she mentioned that she would be starting an ecology course soon.

As to electronics recycling and disposal, we have been working with U.S. EPA and Ohio Sea Grant to redesign to more effectively provide businesses with the information and tools needed to refurbish and/or recycle their old computer equipment. Among the many sites providing information on electronics disposal, we noticed that there was a lack of recycling information provided to businesses. Our hope is that this user-friendly site will act as a one-stop shop for businesses to find out about energy star ratings for new equipment, recyclers in the area, regulations for their state, etc. In my opinion, before the redesign the site was too much like the report it grew from. Now, almost everything is displayed when you first enter the site in a format that is not overwhelming for the user, and clickable maps will make finding regulations and recyclers for a state a bit easier. The best part is that this is just one more step toward keeping hazardous chemicals from entering the environment and contaminating our water supplies.

In addition to working on proper waste disposal, I have also been fortunate enough to work on production of a type E botulism manual for the Great Lakes states. Our goal is to have a document that local and state governments and the public can refer to for information on symptoms to look for, avian carcass disposal, cooking temperatures for fish and birds, as well as any federal and state advice that may exist. Before starting work on this manual, I had no idea that there were even various types of botulism or the conditions required to activate the toxin. The only thing I knew was that improperly canned fruits and vegetables could contain botulism, but I never thought that it was naturally occurring in the Great Lakes. With each new assignment I feel that I am probably learning even more than I realize, and these tasks are just a few of many that, as an intern, one is able to accomplish working with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and U.S. EPA.

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