Hazardous Waste Pharmaceutical Rule

Ruling on Hazardous Pharmaceuticals

The current ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals” effective August 21, 2019, prohibits the disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals into the sewer system (i.e. flushing in toilets) by healthcare facilities and reverse distributors for both humans and animals (40 CFR Part 266.505). Other EPA helpful Pharmaceutical Rule resources include a fact sheet and list of commonly asked questions.

Why Is Flushing Pharmaceuticals Banned?

Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or treat pharmaceutical wastes. Instead, pharmaceuticals introduced to treatment plants pass through the treatment system and end up in bodies of water, like the Spokane River, at the end of the treatment process. Broken down pharmaceuticals and traces of these products introduced to aquatic systems can have a negative effect on fish and other organisms.

How Should Pharmaceuticals Be Disposed Of?

Healthcare facilities and reverse distributors should adhere to the regulations set by the current EPA 2019 Hazardous Pharmaceuticals ruling. The Healthcare Environmental Resource Center (HERC) website provides valuable information on the best management practices for pharmaceutical disposal.

Managing Pharmaceutical Waste  is a  guide document providing suggested steps for healthcare facility handling of pharmaceutical waste. This document is from 2008 and does not adhere to current regulations but is still a valuable resource. The document is currently being revised for the 2019 ruling, estimated to be completed Summer 2022.

Another helpful guide is the Waste Reduction Guide on the suggested steps for the reduction of pharmaceutical wastes

Disposal of Household Medicine

Even in small amounts a household should avoid flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet.  It is important for the continuing health of our water resources to make sure dangerous substances such as medicines stay out of our sewer system. The safest way to dispose of medicine is to let a distributor recycle/dispose of it. Some healthcare and distributor locations, such as pharmacies, have a drop box where you can dispose of unwanted or leftover prescription drugs. Locations of drop boxes near you can be searched for here. If disposing of your medicines at a drop-off location is not possible, other EPA approved methods of pharmaceutical disposal can be found here.