IISG engages in award-winning efforts

October 11th, 2019 by

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) staff have been extra busy lately helping southern Lake Michigan communities and other Great Lakes communities address coastal issues through research, outreach and education, and their work has not gone unnoticed. Sea Granters working on pollution prevention, social science and communication have received three awards recognizing their excellence in bringing the latest science to those who can best use the information, empowering people to solve problems in sustainable ways.

Early Career Award

As part of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network meeting, Sarah Zack was distinguished as recipient of the 2019 Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Early Career Award, presented in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan in September. Zack holds a dual role in pollution prevention, working for both Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and University of Illinois Extension. Since taking on the position of pollution prevention specialist in 2016, she has participated in nearly 60 outreach or education events, reaching nearly 5,000 Great Lakes residents and decision makers, scientists, veterinary professionals and students with the pollution prevention message.

“I was honored to be nominated for the award by my program administration, and shocked and grateful when I won, because I work with so many amazing, effective Sea Grant staff from programs around the Great Lakes,” said Zack. “It feels really good to be recognized, but it’s definitely the strength of my partners that make what we do so fun and meaningful. I couldn’t do it alone!”

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant medicine collection program hit its 10-year anniversary in 2018 under Zack’s leadership. During that time, over 118 tons—or 236,000 pounds—of medicine have been collected through community collection programs supported by IISG. Since 2016, seven new permanent programs have been established, bringing the total of engaged communities to 54.

Since 2017, Zack has also played a critical role in organizing the annual Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference, cohosted by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. It has grown from a one-day conference in 2016, with about 60 attendees, 15 presentations and 11 posters, to a two-day conference with over 100 attendees, 32 presentations, 15 posters and an expert discussion panel in 2019.

The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network (GLSGN) awards are organized and given by the GLSGN program leaders to recognize individual Sea Grant professionals who have shown noteworthy enthusiasm, performance, accomplishments and impact during their Sea Grant careers. Great Lakes Sea Grant individual achievement awards are the only Great Lakes Sea Grant-sponsored awards to recognize individual accomplishments during Sea Grant careers. Recipients of the GLSGN Early Career Award have worked for Sea Grant less than seven years at the time of the award.

Silver Medal for Superior Service

U.S. EPA logo and "National Honor Awards"As part of the Zephyr Great Lakes Remediation Team, Caitie Nigrelli won a 2018 Silver Medal for Superior Service Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, presented at the U.S. EPA National Honor Awards in Washington, D.C. in July. This Great Lakes Legacy Act team successfully remediated the wetlands below the former Zephyr Oil Refinery in Michigan. The team was successful in remediating legacy contamination and restoring native habitat within this Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC), and contributing to the future removal of BUIs within the AOC.

The team was honored for exemplary problem-solving and project management to successfully remediate an extremely toxic contaminated sediment site under extreme pressure and tight timelines. They also won the Western Dredging Association 2019 Environmental Excellence Award, presented in Chicago in June.

Nigrelli works for University of Illinois Extension and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. 

APEX Award

APEX logo and "2019 Awards for Publication Excellence"Every year, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant publishes the ways in which the program has impacted communities and the region through long-term projects addressing critical coastal issues. The impacts booklet published last year, Impacts 2017: Two Great States Caring for One Great Lake, has won a 2019 APEX Award of Excellence in the category of 1-2 Person-Produced Annual Reports. IISG’s strategic communicator, Irene Miles, and graphic designer, Joel Davenport, produced the booklet together. 

“This is a well-deserved award and is evidence of how hard-working, dedicated, and excellent our communications team is,” said Stuart Carlton, IISG’s assistant director. “It’s also evidence of the strong impact that Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has had in the area, helping people use science to live a more resilient life.”

APEX awards are based on distinction in graphic design, editorial content and the ability to achieve overall communications excellence. The awards are given each year by Communication Concepts to recognize outstanding publication work in a variety of fields.


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.


Writer: Hope Charters, 765.494.1614,

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant sponsors four new medicine collection programs

October 23rd, 2018 by

Improper disposal of unwanted medicine is both a public safety and environmental hazard. It can lead to poisonings from children and pets accidentally ingesting them, illegal use or theft, and drinking and surface water contamination. One of the best solutions to prevent improper disposal is to take unwanted medicine to a take-back drop box or collection event.

Since 2008, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) has helped communities organize permanent local medicine collection programs in 53 Great Lakes communities, including new collection box installations in the past year at police departments in four communities in three states: Gibson City and Farmer City in Illinois; Shiocton, Wisconsin; and Bloomfield, Indiana.

Two police officers stand next to a medicine collection box with IISG branding

Chief Adam Rosendahl (left) and Lieutenant Tony Row worked with IISG’s Sarah Zack to organize a take-back program and install a medicine collection box at the Gibson City Police Department. (Photo Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant / Sarah Zack)

Chief Adam Rosendahl from Gibson City installed a take-back box this past August. “One of the reasons I wanted to join the program was so that the medications did not end up in the wrong hands,” said Rosendahl. “We have had a couple different instances where children have taken medications from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine chests.” The Gibson City Police Department wants to make sure that unwanted medications are disposed of properly.

Sarah Zack, IISG pollution prevention specialist, worked directly with police officers in Illinois and Indiana to organize the four new medicine collection programs. “I’m very proud of the legacy of the unwanted medicine take-back program started at IISG, and am thrilled that the program continues to grow,” said Zack. “The success of this program is dependent on having dedicated community partners, and collaborating with folks like Chief Rosendahl to help communities is one of the most valuable services IISG provides.”

IISG plans to install more collection boxes in the next year, continuing to prevent unwanted medicine from threatening public safety and entering the water supply through improper disposal. Interested communities can reach out to Sarah Zack at or (217)300-4076 about obtaining a collection box or starting a medicine take-back program. For more information on proper disposal of unwanted medicine, visit

National Take Back Day

Keep unwanted meds out of the wrong hands and help protect the environment from improper medicine disposal by taking part in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 27, 2018. Go to to find a medicine collection location near you.

New Great Lakes associate will enrich IISG outreach and education efforts

January 17th, 2018 by

Once again, one of IISG’s interns has made good. Allison Neubauer, who began her time with the program as one of our 2013 summer interns and continued on as an educator, is now IISG’s new visiting Great Lakes outreach associate. In her role as an outreach associate, she will work with two IISG specialists to develop products and engage audiences on Great Lakes literacy and natural lawn care.

Working alongside Sarah Zack, pollution prevention specialist, Neubauer will conduct outreach activities to raise awareness of pollution making its way into our waterways—including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, microplastics, and other emerging contaminants of concern. She will serve as the point person for the Lawn to Lake program, informing communities about natural lawn care practices to cutback nutrient and chemical pollution and conserve water.

Neubauer will also work closely with Kristin TePas, community outreach specialist, to manage Great Lakes literacy projects that connect educators and students across the basin with Great Lakes science and develop resources that share research and monitoring efforts conducted onboard U.S. EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian with regional stakeholders.

During her internship, Neubauer led the development of the Lake Guardian website and the production of nine interview videos that introduce students to opportunities in marine and science careers.

Neubauer holds two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Peoria students bringing the bright side to the South Side

March 4th, 2016 by

Adrienne Gulley, IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist, meets with five enthusiastic high school students from Peoria, Illinois. Gulley brought along the “EnviroScape,” a plastic model she uses to demonstrate how pollution affects water quality. The students belong to the selective 4-H Spark Tank, a program developed by University of Illinois Extension. Their goal is to “change the face of the South Side of Peoria through a beautification project” by building a hoop house—similar to a greenhouse. The students plan to raise native Illinois plants and vegetables to distribute to the community. Construction kicks off this spring.

Walgreens is joining the medicine take back movement

February 18th, 2016 by

Medicine take-back programs just signed on a big-time player: Walgreens.

The retail giant is installing 500 medicine disposal kiosks in Washington, D.C.and 39 states—including Indiana and Illinois. This is the first major initiative by a large pharmacy chain to provide access to medicine take-back programs within the pharmacies on a national scale.

The IISG pollution prevention team has been working for the past nine years with communities and law enforcement to get unused, expired, and unwanted medication out of homes and the environment safely and responsibly by helping to develop collection programs.

So now that Walgreens is pitching in, IISG is all done, right? Not quite.

IISG pollution prevention team educates communities about the issues involved with pharmaceuticals in the environment and provides assistance on how to set up medicine take-back programs. The locations—more than 50 in 4 states—are listed at But even with the addition of the Walgreens kiosks, there are still many areas that don’t have access to disposal sites.

“Each community is different,” said Adrienne Gulley, IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist. “Having medicine take-back boxes available in pharmacies is convenient for customers, but the law enforcement-based programs are still critical where Walgreens is unavailable. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to properly dispose of their expired or unwanted medication.”

For the past few years, the pollution prevention team has been working with pharmacists and the veterinary community to help them educate their customers and clients on proper disposal methods. Moving forward, IISG will be working with doctors and nurses to help make them more aware of the impacts of improper medicine disposal on human, animal, and environmental health.

The disposal kiosks at Walgreens will all be available by the end of this year primarily at 24-hour stores.

New PPCP audiences lead to new inspiration

November 6th, 2015 by
This story starts with a nursing student named Sara. Adrienne Gulley, my pollution prevention colleague (pictured speaking with a conference attendee), and I met Sara while overseeing the IISG exhibitor booth at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. We had been there two days and had already talked to about 1,200 public health professionals and students.
Some of the conversations were eye-opening. A few of our booth visitors admitted that they didn’t know that flushing medicine down the toilet was not the way to properly dispose of it. Other interactions were downright refreshing—which brings us back to Sara.
Sara and two other students stopped by our table for the pill-shaped USB drives, but they stayed to learn about how to properly dispose of expired and unwanted medication. Then they stayed a little longer to learn how to read ingredient labels to see if their personal care products contain plastic microbeads. They were engaged and polite, just like every other person that stopped to talk with us.
But unlike every other person, five minutes after Sara left our table, she came back. And she brought more students with her. Before Adrienne or I even had time to say hello, Sara was explaining what microbeads are, what to look for on the ingredient list (polyethylene or polypropylene), and that microbeads have been found in several species of fish in the Great Lakes.
Over the course of the four-day event, we talked to people from at least 23 states as well as Puerto Rico, Uganda, South Africa, and Afghanistan—sharing information and learning some new things ourselves. But Sara is going to stick in my mind for a long time.
Sara, if you are reading this, if the nursing career doesn’t work out, I think you have a very strong future in education and outreach.

Hoosiers do their part to be SepticSmart

September 23rd, 2014 by
Indiana communities along Lake Michigan are celebrating this year’s SepticSmart Week, Sept. 22-26, by reminding homeowners of the importance of septic system maintenance to environmental and public health.

An estimated 60,000 households in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties depend on septic systems to treat wastewater. Without regular maintenance, these systems can backup or overflow, contaminating nearby lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplies with everything from excess nutrients to E. coli to pharmaceutical chemicals. Septic system failures are also one of the primary causes of beach closures in Indiana.  

To prevent failures, U.S. EPA and the Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group has some advice for homeowners:
  • Protect it and inspect it: Have your system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor and have your tank pumped when necessary, typically every 3-5 years. Many septic system failures occur during the holiday season, so be sure to get your system inspected and serviced now before inspectors’ schedules fill up around the holidays.
  • Think at the sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain. These substances can clog pipes and the drain field.
  • Don’t overload the commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Coffee grounds, dental floss, diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can clog and damage septic systems.
  • Don’t strain your drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day. Too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield your field: Remind guests not to park or drive on the drain field, which could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.
The Northwest Indiana Septic System Coordination Work Group brings together federal, state, and local governments and agencies, state and county health departments, and not-for-profits to provide homeowners with information and assistance on the proper care of septic systems. IISG’s Leslie Dorworth has been a part of the group since it began in 2012. For more information or to get involved locally, contact Dorreen Carey at the Indiana DNR Lake Michigan Coastal Program at 219-921-0863 or

SepticSmart Week is part of U.S. EPA’s year-round SepticSmart program. In addition to educating property owners, the program is an online resource for industry practitioners, local governments and community organizations that provides access to tools to educate clients and residents.

Take a minute to learn about pollution prevention

September 11th, 2014 by
Laura Kammin, our pollution prevention specialist, has some exciting news. Let’s let her tell you about it:

If you only had a minute, what would you say?
Just one minute to explain what pharmaceutical waste is and how people can help reduce it. That was the challenge posed by our new pollution prevention team members Erin Knowles and Adrienne Gulley. 
Challenge accepted! Here it is, the first installment of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Pollution Prevention Minute.


We know it’s a long name. But don’t worry, the content isn’t. They’re one—ok, maybe sometimes closer to two—minute videos that give easy-to-understand answers to some of the more complicated questions surrounding the use, storage, and disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
Why videos? We are always getting asked questions like “what happens to the medicine that gets collected?” and “what are microbeads?” We think these new videos are a fun way to share the answers.
And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and watch for the next episode of IISG’s Pollution Prevention Minute.  

Illinois the latest state to start Clean Marina program

May 31st, 2013 by

This month Illinois joined a number of other Great Lakes states by instituting a Clean Marina program. Designed to reduce and prevent pollution, the program provides best management practices for marina operators to help protect waterways and the environment. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant created the Clean Marina guidebook (PDF) in collaboration with Illinois DNR to offer a comprehensive manual for marina operators with important environmental protection and best practice information.

From our latest edition of The Helm:

“Nearly a quarter of Illinois’ 70 marinas sit along Lake Michigan, making the Illinois shoreline the most active in the Great Lakes region. Millions of people in the Chicago area rely on that same stretch of Lake Michigan for drinking water. Here, even small levels of pollution from marinas can have a significant impact on the lake and the communities that rely on it.

At the heart of the Clean Marina Program are best management practices that make marina operations and boater activities more efficient and environmentally friendly. Practices cover a range of topics, from marina construction to vessel maintenance, and most are easy and affordable. Some recommendations, such as how to protect nearby habitats during construction, will help new or expanding marinas develop greener sites from the beginning. And others will help marina personnel educate boaters on what they can do to protect and improve the state’s water quality. Marinas that adopt the practices will be certified as a clean marina by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Coastal Management Program.”

Read the complete article at the link above, and learn more about the Clean Marina Program at the program website and on Facebook.

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