(February 26, 2019) - A final rule published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the February 22 Federal Register prohibits healthcare facilities from disposing of unused hazardous waste pharmaceuticals by flushing or pouring down the drain into sewer systems. Previously, the domestic sewage exclusion of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) unintendedly encouraged the flushing of these types of pharmaceuticals.
NACWA supported this flushing prohibition in comments on EPA’s original 2008 proposal, and in comments on an updated proposal in 2015. Proper pharmaceutical disposal is a component of NACWA’s Toilets Are Not Trashcans campaign, and the Association has consistently advocated for federal agencies to remove flushing as a method of pharmaceutical waste disposal.
NACWA supported a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rule finalized in 2014 which states that flushing is not an acceptable method for making controlled substances “non-retrievable.” While the new EPA rule applies only to healthcare facilities and pharmaceuticals classified as hazardous waste substances, it also states: “EPA strongly recommends as a best management practice to not sewer any waste pharmaceutical (i.e., hazardous or non-hazardous) from any source or location.”
The final rule contains other provisions that also assist with proper pharmaceutical disposal. It eliminates the dual regulation of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are also classified as controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which hindered the proper disposal of these drugs and made flushing the easiest option. “Drug take-back” programs—whether at pharmacies or special events—are also protected by this rule. And the rule codifies EPA’s position that hazardous waste pharmaceuticals brought to these events are exempt from RCRA hazardous waste disposal regulations.
Clean water agency pretreatment programs have raised questions about their obligations under this rule. NACWA is seeking clarification from EPA about whether pretreatment programs must notify healthcare facilities about the flushing prohibition. An upcoming Advocacy Alert will address this issue and provide more detailed information about the final rule.
This new rule is another sign of success of NACWA’s Toilets Are Not Trashcans campaign, which seeks to eliminate the disposal of harmful products, including pharmaceuticals, wipes, and other non-flushable materials, via the sewer system. All NACWA members are encouraged to learn more about the campaign and take part – please contact Cynthia Finley, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, with any questions.