Native Plants from Prison, and Drugs in our Drinking Water

photo syringe drugs great lakes
Photo by Andres Rueda

As heard Nov. 30, 2012, on Delta Q-90.1 FM, NPR (audio, at 7:00) …
1. Inmates are helping growing native plants for a national wildlife refuge.

Inmates from the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland are helping conserve wildlife habitat at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County by growing native prairie grass and wildflowers from seed.

The program is modeled after one from Minnesota; that prison has since closed.

The local inmates sow seeds collected from the Saginaw County refuge and tend plants once they’ve germinated.

When the plants are mature, they are trucked to the refuge for transplanting on former cropland.

Last year, 60,000 plants were transplanted.

Freeland prison officials hope to see the program spread to other areas of Michigan, and other states.

This is the program’s third year. Among the species planted this year were swamp milkweed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, common boneset, and wild bergamot. Native plants are good because they provide habitat for birds, attract pollinating insects, and help keep out invasive species.

Funding for the program has been provided by grant from Ducks Unlimited, and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network.

Recently, 35,000 plants were delivered to the refuge with a market value of $175,000.

2. There’s drugs in our drinking water. And treatment plants are having a tough time dealing with it.

According to reports from Great Lakes Echo and the Alliance for the Great Lakes (document), traces of pharmaceuticals, everyday chemicals, and personal care products in our drinking water are an emerging concern.

Treatment plants can use membrane technology to remove some pharmaceuticals from wastewater. But, they can’t catch all of what’s contributed by humans and animals.

A total of 35 treatment plants in the Great Lakes use membrane technology, including 13 plants on Lake Huron.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is aware of the issue, and officials say various federal research projects are ongoing about pharmaceuticals in water.

The DEQ says pharmaceuticals have been detected in groundwater, lakes and streams in Michigan. The drugs can harm aquatic life. And, as concentrations in our water increase, the presence of these drugs may lead to human health damages.

The federal government doesn’t currently have any requirements about pharmaceuticals in drinking water, but standards are reviewed periodically.

( See also – “Great Lakes Syringes” )


  1. Nice post. I would note that pharmaceuticals in drinking water are a tricky subject, because so far the only impacts at these low concentrations are observed in fish and amphibians, not in people. It would be a large shift for EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act to be protective of aquatic life first, rather than human health first, not to say whether they should or should not. (I wrote about this recently on my blog:


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