Many localities and sewer districts have been trying for years to discourage citizens from disposing of their unused, outdated or unneeded pharmaceuticals by flushing them down the drain. Did you know It was common practice for Health care facilities and reverse distributors1 to flush pharmaceuticals? Such actions were governed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations on controlled substances. In fact, CTI closed a local pharmaceutical lab years ago that contained narcotics and other medications and the DEA instructed us to “flush them”.

The EPA has a new set of sector-specific standards for the management of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals by healthcare facilities and reverse distributors which became effective August 21, 2019. Among other restrictions, these new regulations prohibit the disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the drain and eliminate the DEA’s role in governing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals2. The new rules do maintain the household hazardous waste exemption for pharmaceuticals collected during pharmaceutical take-back programs and events, while ensuring their proper disposal. The EPA estimates that this rule will eliminate 1,644 to 2,300 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from entering our waterways each year to affect aquatic life and drinking water.

Although this rule change currently applies only to anyone who is now regulated by the hazardous waste management rules as a healthcare facility or reverse distributor, don’t be surprised to see similar directives proposed in near-future that apply to the general public, especially in light of the growing prevalence of opioid use in households and workplaces. This rule will be enforced through RCRA inspections of healthcare facilities and reverse distributors by state or federal officials.

  1. Reverse distributors are entities that help healthcare facilities calculate and receive credit from pharmaceutical manufacturers when healthcare facilities have unused pharmaceuticals that they no longer need.
  2. Section 266.505 of title 40 of the CFR prohibits all healthcare facilities and reverse distributors from discharging any hazardous waste pharmaceuticalsto a sewer system that passes through to a publicly owned treatment works (POTW). The sewer prohibition applies to RCRA hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are also controlled substances under the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations and collected household pharmaceuticals (see 40 CFR section 266.506). We note that although the sewer prohibition applies to healthcare facilities and reverse distributors with respect to hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, EPA strongly discourages sewering of any pharmaceutical in any setting (with few exceptions, such as sterile water, 0.9 percent sodium chloride (saline) and Ringer’s lactate solution).



Published by Stephen Kovatch

Senior Client Manager  Stephen J. Kovatch focuses on assisting clients in establishing corporate regulatory compliance programs in the areas of air, water, and waste management. Mr. Kovatch also provides direction to industrial facility owners who are active in the transaction of contaminated property by defining objectives, coordinating soil and water sampling protocols, risk assessment, and remedial / cleanup activities. He frequently represents clients in property sales negotiations and regulatory agency and insurance proceedings.

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