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vertical line Posted on May.22.2007 @ 01:32AM EDT by YOOPERNEWS

Northern Michigan Zen Buddhists Help Turn In Tens of Thousands of Pharmaceuticals Weighing Over One Ton - Narcotics Have Estimated Street Value of $500,000

The positive pulpit power of 140 churches/temples: Zen Buddhists work with eight other religions, university students, American Indians, non-profit environment groups to protect planet every Earth Day

(Marquette, Michigan) - Northern Michigan Zen Buddhists helped turn in tens of thousands of pills plus narcotics with an estimated street value of half a million dollars during the third annual Earth Keeper Clean Sweep.

Over one ton of medicines and personal care products were turned in by the public during the 2007 Pharmaceutical Clean Sweep, said Carl Lindquist, executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership.

The "controlled substances" turned in have an estimated street value of $500,000 including narcotics in pill and liquid form, clean sweep organizers said.

"We had a great public turnout, a lot of people showed up with old medications," said Lindquist said.

For the third year in a row, northern Michigan Zen Buddhists volunteered at the Grace United Methodist Church in Marquette.

Lake Superior Zendo head priest Paul Lehmberg said it is "the beginning of a tradition and it felt good to be back there on Earth Day" with UMC Rev. Charlie West and "his hospitable crew doing something for the earth and raising consciousness about yet another hazard that is degrading and poisoning our environment."

"Each year during the clean sweeps, I see wider involvement and more publicity, and each year I see more evidence of young people participating, which is absolutely a necessity over the long haul," said Reverend Tesshin Paul Lehmberg, leader of the Lake Superior Zendo - a Marquette Zen Buddhist temple.

The EPA is funding the collection of pharmaceuticals and personal care products because trace amounts of chemicals from those substances are turning up in America's drinking water because many treatment plants are not designed to remove the dangerous chemicals.

The clean sweep was sponsored by nine faith communities, the Superior Watershed Partnership, the Cedar Tree Institute, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

About 2,000 people turned in items but many had collected pharmaceuticals from family and friends, organizers said.

Assistance was provided by the Michigan Pharmacists Association and numerous law enforcement agencies including the DEA and Michigan Sheriff's Association, Lindquist said.

The annual Earth Day project involves over 140 churches and temples (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist Church (UMC), Unitarian Universalist, Baha'i, Jewish, and Zen Buddhist).

Rev. Lehmberg said his 15-year-old daughter, Freya, and Rev. West's 13-year-old son, Christopher, were excited to volunteer.

"We're passing along our enthusiasms, and our worry" over the environmental condition of the earth and that youth concern for nature and involvement is essential to the future of the planet, Rev. Lehmberg said.

"The pharmacists brought knowledge of all the things we collect, the law officers praised us for getting these drugs in a secure place and out of the potential of being abused," said Michael Rotter, a senior majoring in botany.

"The amazing thing about the clean sweep, is me being a 21-year-old Buddhist college kid can sit down and talk to a 30 year old pharmacist father and we can both relate to the 50-year-old Methodist pastor," Rotter said.

"As we heal and cleanse the Earth, we are also healing the human heart," said Lutheran Rev. Jon Magnuson, Earth Keeper Initiative founder.

UMC Earth Keeper Rev. Charlie West said that the Zen Buddhist Earth Keepers and his church members "felt really good about providing this service for the community."

"These chemicals should not be loose in the creation - we're glad they will be disposed of carefully," said Rev. West of the Grace UMC in Marquette.

Financial sponsors again this year include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and $15,000 from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a not-for-profit financial services membership organization and fraternal benefit society.

"We are in trouble with the way we live with the Earth" but the clean sweeps are humans correcting man-made problems, said Rev. Magnuson, co-organizer of the clean sweeps and the head of Lutheran Campus Ministry at NMU.

The pharmaceuticals will be taken to an EPA-licensed incinerator near St. Louis, Missouri.

"From the EPA's prospective this is an ideal approach for grassroots community members and the faith-based community to work with the federal government, American Indians and others to achieve environmental gain," said John Perrecone of the Midwestern Region office of EPA located in Chicago who visited collection sites.

The collection included a wide range of old and unwanted medicines, narcotic pain killers, sleeping pills, syringes/needles, and antibiotics; and personal care products like shampoo, lotions and soaps.

The environmental project also collected drugs that could be accidentally consumed by children and prevented misuse of controlled substances like narcotics.

Lutheran Mary Sloan Armstrong of Harvey brought 18 large dust-covered antique bottles in a wooden crate to the Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette.

The liquid and powder medicines belonged to her late father J.K. Sloan, a druggist in Galva, Illinois.

"These are drug bottles that were in the basement of my dad's pharmacy," said Armstrong, a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Harvey. "Some of the bottle patents are pre-civil war."

"This stuff goes back about one hundred years, " said Marquette pharmacist Dave Campana.

Across town, Marquette pharmacist Kent Jenema said someone dropped off a turn-of-the-century "doctor's traveling pharmacy" kit containing eight small bottles with powders at the St. Peter Catholic Cathedral in Marquette.

Police are pleased "controlled" drugs were turned in during the clean sweep.

"Some of the most abuse things in the area are prescription drugs and a lot of people after they get their prescription refilled don't use them," said Marquette Police officer Brandon Boesl at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette.

"Lots of controlled substances came through that won't get sold or end up in the water," said Rev. Tari Stage-Harvey, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church in St. Ignace and Trinity Lutheran Church in Brevort.

Marquette General Hospital Pharmacist Bob Hodges at Messiah Lutheran Church said the controlled drugs were inventoried as "required by law."

The clean sweep was praised by America's Drug Czar.

"Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem across the nation, increasingly affecting families who have been untouched by illegal drug use," said U.S. Drug Czar John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Earth Keeper collection is an example of "community engagement in properly disposing of pharmaceuticals (that) will help us stop and prevent prescription drug abuse, and the harm it can cause," said Walters, a member of the President's Cabinet

A 2006 study revealed 14 percent of students in the Marquette area admit using prescription medication to get high.

"A lot of times prescription drugs that are suitable for abuse can be stolen from people for whom they are prescribed," said Paul Olson, a licensed social worker in Marquette who works with youth.

Katherine Geier brought various narcotics to the St. John Evangelist Catholic Church in Ishpeming.

Grier said her mother "had become addicted to prescription pain killers and sleeping pills" so she hid the drugs because she "did not want to flush them down the toilet."

Ishpeming Police Officer Robert Sibley said addicts burglarize homes to get drugs and "either use it themselves or sell it on the streets."

At the First Lutheran Church in Gladstone security was provided by Michigan State Police and Gladstone Public Safety Officers.

"This was a wonderful event - a perfect marriage of two concerns - care of the environment and the need to remove drugs that might otherwise be abused from the community," said Pastor Jonathan Schmidt.

Delta County Prosecutor Steve Parks told the Gladstone site manager he was pleased to see narcotics and other prescriptions drugs removed from his community.

"Delta County has a problem with teens abusing prescription drugs, so finding people to help at the pharmaceutical collection was not difficult," said Northern Michigan University student volunteer Miranda Revere, a 21-year-old business management major from Clio, MI.

Marquette Messiah Lutheran Church Pastor Nancy Amacher said "as people of faith we believe the earth is God's created gift and part of our stewardship is to care for ourselves as well as the forests, waterways, and their inhabitants."

Dr. Rodney Clarken, chair of the Marquette Baha'i spiritual assembly who volunteered at a Lutheran church, said "the interfaith aspect of this project has given it a unique energy and power - when you see the results over the past three years" adding he hopes people will see the connection between protecting the Earth and their spiritual beliefs.

10-year-old Eve McCowen volunteered with her parents and other members of the Marquette Baha'i Spiritual Assembly at the Marquette Messiah Lutheran Church.

"We came here to collect the vitamins, pills and any other medicines - so they won't pollute the earth," said McCowen, a fourth grader.

Lutheran Don Flint of Ironwood said his wife, Betty, cleaned out their medicine cabinets "to get rid of medications that we don't want any more" because "we've become more aware that it's not the right thing to do to flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet."

The 64-year-old retired steelworker dropped off old antibiotics, arthritis pain medicine, aspirin, Tylenol and lotions at the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church collection site in Ironwood.

The Northern Michigan University EarthKeeper Student Team sent volunteers literally hundreds of miles to all 19 collections sites.

A Lutheran, NMU student project director Jennifer Simula said the students "are wearing green T-shirts and they all have smiles on their faces."

"The students are greeting everybody as they come in, providing hospitality and letting everyone know what's going on and that they are involved in a great project," said Simula, a leader in NMU Lutheran Campus Ministry.

Some people "dropped off pharmaceuticals for friends and family members," said NMU student Ashley Ormson, a member of Messiah Lutheran Church member and Lutheran Campus Ministry.

NMU student Matt Nordine enjoyed the four-hour round drive to the St. Ignace UMC Church "to actively participate in Earth Day."

NMU student Lauren Murphy said it is easy to mix getting good grades with several environmental projects because "we keep a good balance - on the weekends we go to our projects."

"We collected a lot of medicines, old suntan lotions, eye drops, cosmetics and other stuff like that," said NMU student Kristy Knutson.

UMC of St. Ignace Rev. Jim Balfour said "it is wonderful to work in a community where the churches come together easily to address the threats to God's world," Pastor Balfour said.

Presbyterian Earth Keeper Sue Piasini of Sagola, MI saw a flock of geese while going to the clean sweep and thought "we are going to take care of the water for you."

At the Iron Mountain Salvation Army Bread of Life Center "one person brought a full duffel bag" of pharmaceuticals and another "bag had over 2,000 pills" that had to be sorted, said Piasini, a grandmother and member of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola.

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Lutheran Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes of the Northern Great Lakes Synod said the public had an "eagerness about being a part of the solution" at the Fortune Lake Lutheran Bible Camp in Iron County.

"It was a morning of solutions to difficult problems and I am proud of my church," said Bishop Skrenes.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette Bishop Alexander K. Sample was especially happy about the large youth involvement in protecting the environment and taking prescription drugs off the streets.

"It is wonderful to see that the younger generation is at the heart of this Earth Keepers effort," said Bishop Sample.

"We have to be concerned about our young people and the world we will hand on to them," Bishop Sample said.

Catholic Earth Keeper Kyra Fillmore, a 29-year-old mother of two small children, said "people were unloading medicines from deceased relatives or from past illness."

"This collection was a quieter, more personal event," said Fillmore, a member of St. Louis the King Catholic Church in Harvey. "I'm grateful that Earth Keepers could provide a comfortable place for people to - in a sense - release past pains and help keep our water clean as well."

Catholic Earth Keeper Linda O'Brien of Marquette, who drove five hours round trip to volunteer at the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Ironwood, MI, called the clean sweep "a most spiritual event for cleansing the soul of medicinal toxins."

O'Brien believes participants "shed the reminder of pain from loved ones."

Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan Bishop James Kelsey brought several old medications to a Catholic collection site hoping that others will follow the environmental example of the Earth Keepers.

"Care for the environment is an expression of love for God and one another," said Kelsey.

Jewish Earth Keeper Jacob Silver said future health of the planet will depend on how youth are motivated by adults - and protecting nature is clear in the annual teachings and observations of Tikkun Olam and Passover.

"It is important that adults and parents are seen by youth to be carrying out the moral obligation for Tikkun Olam," said Silver of Temple Beth Sholom in Ishpeming, MI.

Silver said "for Jews, the Earth is all we have."

"There is no mention, thus no concept, of existence after death in the five books of Moses, our

Torah," Silver said. "There is nowhere else, and if we foul the Earth, we can be left ultimately homeless."

UMC Marquette District Superintendent Grant R. Lobb said the words "cleaner water" kept popping into his mind while watching people bring pharmaceuticals into the Grace UMC basement.

Catholic Earth Keeper Kelly Mathews of Big Bay, and her husband, Chris Mathews, 45, brought numerous medicines bottles to the collection including 18-year-old prescription sinus medication they found while recently cleaning out their medicine cabinet.

"Some people brought in bottles with 50 to 80 more pills," said Mathews, a 36-year-old mother of two whose family now uses natural medications. "I found the financial waste totally unnecessary."

Marquette Unitarian Universalist Congregation Earth Keeper Gail Griffith agreed the waste of medicine in America is sad.

"It's too bad" some pharmaceuticals "end up as trash, but we need to insure that trash doesn't end up harming our waters," Griffith said, adding one pill turned in cost $600.

Presbyterian Earth Keeper Lynnea Kuzak, who volunteered at the Manistique First UMC was thanked by a resident who lost her husband to cancer and wanted his medication properly disposed.

"Another person told me ‘I didn't like putting them down the toilet,' " said Kuzak, 28, the director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church in Marquette.

Presbyterian Pastor Dave Anderson of Iron Mountain worries "about the legacy our generation will leave for future ones."

"As God's children, we feel like we are provided a concrete, tangible way to make a difference in our environment," said Rev. Anderson, who is pastor of the Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola."

"So many of our environmental problems come from the side effects of our advanced society - and every prescription has side effects," said Joy Ibsen, lay minister at Trinity Lutheran Church in Trout Creek, MI.

Ibsen said, like people, "the earth and water is allergic to many powerful prescriptions and chemicals."

Mary Klups of Ontonagon County brought in several types of pain and blood pressure medication, including two bottles of morphine, leftover from her late husband's cancer treatment.

"I had several drugs I have kept, waiting to dispose of in the right way," said Klups at the White Pine Community UMC.

White Pine pharmacist Chuck Blezek said "for years we told people to flush old prescriptions down the toilet - it is only lately that we have found out that it is the wrong thing to do."

Munising UMC site coordinator Phil Hansen said many participants collected from family and friends and some "brought in large quantities" filling plastic grocery bags.

The previous two cleans sweeps gathered nearly 400 tons of hazardous waste including household poisons, vehicle batteries, old computers and cell phones - all was properly disposed or recycled.

For more information contact the Superior Watershed Partnership at 906-228-6095 and Greg at 906-475-5068, or email: earthkeeper@charter.net

Earth Keeper TV:


Earth Keeper related website addresses are:

The Superior Watershed Partnership:


The Cedar Tree Institute:


The Lake Superior Interfaith Communication Network:


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