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Our county has recently passed an amazing yet unfortunate milestone — we’ve now collected and safely disposed of more than 100,000 pounds of unwanted and out-of-date pharmaceuticals since 2007.

Our efforts have prevented these unwanted medications from entering our creeks, watershed, landfills, and ultimately our groundwater. Additionally, these efforts have prevented medications from being stored at home where they could be poisoning hazards for children and potential magnets for criminals.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of what has been kept out of our environment, that 100,000 pounds is roughly equivalent to the weight of 100 grand pianos, four school buses or eight adult African elephants. That’s an amazing amount of pills.

What’s unfortunate about this milestone is that it shows the magnitude of the problem, which despite years of efforts, shows no sign of slowing. The amount of uncollected medications appears immense, while at the same time our efforts have cost taxpayers in this county more than $1.1 million since 2007. A better solution is needed.

Recognizing this need, the Russian River Watershed Association has gone to every single city in Sonoma County to ask for their support in bringing about change that will protect both their environment and their pocketbooks. We’re proud to share that this is something we all agreed upon, with every city in Sonoma County ultimately signing a letter of support to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for a safe medicines ordinance in our county.

How will this help? Simply put, large pharmaceutical companies will be required through a safe medicines ordinance to design, manage and finance a program to ensure their unused products are collected and properly disposed. This ordinance would not allow producers to charge a fee to consumers at either the point-of-sale or point of-disposal to recover their costs to provide this service. The responsibility for safe disposal of these medications would be taken from you, the consumer, and more fairly borne by the manufacturer.

This approach has protected consumers successfully for 20 years in Canada. In just the last few years the counties of Alameda, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, as well as the city and county of San Francisco, and King County, Washington, have all approved similar ordinances.

The pharmaceutical industry needs to accept the responsibilities that go along with producing a product that can be dangerous to our watershed and our children. Working together, we can ensure that the cost of disposing medication is not a burden on taxpayers, but instead a requirement of the companies that profit from pharmaceutical sales.

After losing a legal battle on this issue all the way up to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, some in the pharmaceutical industry have resorted to scare tactics. In Los Angeles County earlier this year, a series of robo-calls went out to residents incorrectly asserting that there would be huge cost increases to taxpayers if such an ordinance was passed.

We’re sharing this so that we in Sonoma County can stand as one and not have to look back and recognize we did not act. All of our cities have collectively pulled together in an historic manner to achieve a better result for our county.

This issue will now come before the Board of Supervisors for consideration. Stay engaged and contact your local representatives with any questions.

Mark Landman is chairman of the Russian River Watershed Association. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore is a Watershed Association board member representing the county.

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