November 19, 2009 at 8:12 a.m.
Household Hazardous Waste Center director helps put county on the map with national spotlight on local drug take-back
The Household Hazardous Waste Center opened in North Branch in autumn of 2000. Maybe three years into this job, the universe tossed him another opportunity; creating Chisago County's "unwanted medication disposal program."
Dennison said it was around 2003 or so, when customers first started calling or coming by the household hazardous waste center who didn't know what to do with unwanted pharmaceuticals and even their expired over-the-counter meds.
"It was the one thing I didn't have an answer for," he continued.
About this same time the media reported the growing popularity of prescription medicines among adolescents, and the poisoning dangers these pose. Dennison also knew about the "feminization of fish" where aquatic species had physical characteristics attributed to female hormones, which in turn were believed to be originating from birth control pill waste.
Products like ibuprofen started showing up in the environment.
Don't flush waste medicines of any kind into the sanitary sewer, people were now being advised.
Wastewater treatment plants aren't currently equipped to eliminate much more than phosphates, nitrogen and solids. Now-- if you shouldn't flush waste meds, and landfilling would just allow products to seep into groundwater Dennison asked himself -- what could he give people as an option?
After meeting with law enforcement, health and human services, disposal companies and many others the county's unwanted meds disposal program was first implemented at the government center via a secure drop-box in 2007.
It has expanded to include a drop-off at North Branch Police department.
The effort has earned Dennison the national "Agent of Change" award, chosen by his peers in the hazardous waste management industry.
"If it had been just the effect of the medications on water, I don't know how far this would have gone," Dennison comments. "But, the combination of everything at that particular time...the fish, the problems with kids getting into medications, the increasing street sales of prescription drugs and even the county population aging," he said. Everything came together at one time to generate support for making this program work. Plus, there was a state grant the county won that made construction of a center in the North Branch Industrial Park even possible.
And, so Chisago County's Household Hazardous Waste Center Director went to Houston, Texas November 9-13, to the North American Hazardous Waste Materials Management Association four-day annual conference. He received recognition for this highly respected county program and he also got to advocate for national rules and facilities to improve disposal of unwanted meds.
Dennison attended sessions on stewardship of hazardous materials and related trainings as well. He feels the attitude of conference participants was quite positive overall. He got a lift, he said, being around so many others whose jobs are also to be cheerleaders for a greener way of life. "There was some sort of validation I guess you could call it," he said, "being around other people working on this."
Adherence to the precautionary principle applies, he explains. You are aware of the consequences of what you buy, what you discard, and how the item is to be used. You choose the least hazardous product when an alternative exists.
The NAHMMA practices what it preaches. Dennison's award is a wedge-shaped chunk of royal blue recycled glass.
Even though it is etched with Dennison's name-- passing through security at the airport gates it raised suspicion. Dennison has a funny story about cooling his jets in his stocking feet, minus his belt and various other garments, while guards swabbed the award and luggage testing for the presence of explosives.
And, good timing yet again, the hurricane forecast to hit Houston never materialized.