EPA rule banning disposal of drugs down drains takes effect this week

The first deadline of a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) governing the handling of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals by health care facilities will take effect Wednesday, August 21, 2019. The EPA rule, Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals and Amendment to the P075 Listing for Nicotine, prohibits the disposal of certain drugs by flushing them down the drain or toilet—commonly referred to as “sewering”—and eases rules about disposing of FDA-approved, OTC nicotine replacement therapies, among other changes related to hazardous waste pharmaceuticals of which pharmacists need to be aware.

The rule changes how hazardous waste pharmaceuticals at health care facilities are regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). According to EPA, RCRA “gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the ‘cradle-to-grave.’ This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. To achieve this, EPA develops regulations, guidance and policies that ensure the safe management and cleanup of solid and hazardous waste, and programs that encourage source reduction and beneficial reuse.”

The prohibition on sewering applies throughout the United States beginning August 21. Though EPA defines “hazardous waste pharmaceuticals” as pharmaceuticals that are solid waste—in other words, that cannot reasonably be expected to be legitimately used, reused, or reclaimed—and exhibit corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive characteristics, the agency recommends refraining from disposing of any drug in this manner.

According to the final rule, FDA-approved, OTC nicotine replacement therapies—such as gums, patches, and lozenges—will no longer be considered acute hazardous waste when discarded, which provides additional flexibility from health care facilities disposing of these products. While most states are anticipated to adopt this eased classification, states may decline to do so.

APhA encourages members to check their state laws and regulations on pharmaceutical hazardous waste disposal, as states have variable adoption deadlines and may have more stringent requirements than those imposed by the final rule.

EPA hosted a webinar on the new rule in April. To view the slides and learn more, visit https://apha.us/EPAwebinar.