Environment: EPA extends comment period on new rule to cut pharmaceutical pollution

Water pollution from waste pharmaceuticals is becoming ubiquitous, to the detriment of the environment. @bberwyn photo.

Watchdogs offer suggestions to beef up regulation

Staff Report

After years of studies showing how pharmaceutical wastes are polluting streams and lakes, the EPA has finally proposed a modest rule to start curbing the contaminants.

A proposed rule published in August would create new standards for  healthcare facilities (including pharmacies) and reverse distributors. According to the agency, the rule would prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually by banning healthcare facilities from flushing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the sink and toilet.

More Summit Voice stories on pharmaceutical pollution:

The EPA started work on the issue in 2008, with a proposal to add pharmaceuticals to the types of hazardous wastes that could be managed under existing regulations for universal waste, but public comments identified a slew of problems related to notification and tracking issues.

The public comment period on the latest proposal has been extended through Dec. 24. View the rule in the Federal Register for more details on commenting.

But some watchdog groups say that, while the proposed rule is a good first step, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. As put forward by the EPA, the regulation would only cover about 5 percent of the total amount of pharmaceutical pollution — just a fraction of the pharmaceuticals disposed intentionally into the waste system.

“While this health facility sewer ban on selected pharmaceuticals is a good first step, it must be dramatically expanded if it is to be a potent preventative,” said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “At the very least, the no flush rule should apply to all medications, whether they are classified hazardous or non-hazardous.”

According to PEER, the rule only covers about 50 drugs. Another problem is that it applies only to health facility operators but not to patients, and the facilities covered by the rule are responsible for a fraction of the pharmaceuticals disposed intentionally into the waste system.

In its comments on the rule, PEER also explained that EPA is trying to use an inappropriate legal framework for countering this large, complex and largely legal form of pollution by regulating pharmaceutical pollution under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which exempts households and has other built-in strictures.

“To effectively address the spreading stain of pharmaceutical pollution, EPA needs a new strategy and a new regulatory framework,” Bennett said. “Until then at the very least, EPA should direct its education, training and compliance assistance efforts at all pharmaceuticals rather than just a very select few.”

PEER has posted several documents helpful to understanding the scope of the issue:



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