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EPA Ban on Sewering Hazardous Waste Drugs Takes Effect Wednesday

By Decision Health  
   August 19, 2019

The sewering ban, one of the more stringent changes outlined in EPA's rule, is the only part of the rule that takes effect at all healthcare facilities nationwide.

By A.J. Plunkett

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation banning the sewering of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals takes effect Wednesday. Experts say the best way for organizations to ensure compliance may be for them to enact their own policies that prohibit the flushing of any and all drugs into the sewers.

A blanket ban on flushing drugs would also help to ease requirements on front-line staffers who would no longer have to keep track of what they can and can't send down the drain. And it may help organizations stay on the good side of federal regulators, who are touting the outright ban as a best practice to protect water resources.

This compliance deadline marks the first set out in regulations the EPA published in a final rule last February that sets up a new category, Subpart P, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The ban is the only part of the rule that goes into effect at all healthcare facilities across the United States and its territories, without exception. That's because the EPA is declaring the ban under the authority set out by the federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). Other parts of the final rule are under RCRA and must be approved in each state or territory that has its own RCRA-authorized program.

The sewering ban is one of the more stringent changes outlined in the rule. And the EPA only has the authority to ban flushing of those drugs deemed to be hazardous waste, as outlined under RCRA regulation, notes Wade Scheel, director of governmental affairs for Stericycle Environmental Solutions. However, in the preamble to the final rule, the EPA "clearly makes it known" its position on sewering of all drugs, Scheel says.

That preamble states: "We note that although our RCRA statutory authority limits us to apply the prohibition on sewering narrowly to pharmaceuticals that are RCRA hazardous wastes, 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 EPA even goes on to ask households to do the same.

The concern is that public sewer and water systems were not designed to filter out what has become very complex chemical and biological elements found in many drugs, even if they're not technically considered hazardous waste, Scheel says.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt of an article published by the Accreditation & Quality Compliance Center (AQCC), produced by HCPro and DecisionHealth, which are siblings to HealthLeaders in the Simplify Compliance family.

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