We’ve all seen unsuspecting movie characters laid low by poisoned drinks (as in “The Maltese Falcon”). Similar scenes were in my mind when I heard reports that trace levels of drugs had been found in American cities’ drinking water. That’s why I was happy to see that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had begun to strengthen the regulation of discarded medicines.
EPA proposed that pharmaceuticals be added to the Universal Waste Rule, which regulates hazardous substances. If a facility managed its hazardous pharmaceutical waste as a universal waste, it would be eligible for basic training about how to store and label pharmaceutical wastes before they are collected and recycled or treated in environmentally sound ways.
The proposed rule would apply to hospitals, pharmacies, and other heathcare-related sites. These sites would save $33.9–35.2 million per year under the proposed rule, mostly by reducing disposal costs, according to the EPA website. Managing pharmaceutical waste under current rules has been difficult, EPA notes, because of the number of sites that generate the waste, the variety of substances, and the small quantities of the medicines.
On its website, EPA advises against throwing drugs down the drain because of “the potential adverse effects of introducing waste pharmaceuticals into the environment, and the inability of wastewater treatment plants to treat some pharmaceuticals effectively.” In the meantime, the agency is researching the ecological and health effects of pharmaceuticals in bodies of water.
It’s reassuring that EPA recognizes that our unused and discarded drugs pose potential health and environmental problems. I think the proposed Pharmaceutical Universal Waste Rule will bring needed oversight and improve the disposal of pharmaceutical waste until EPA’s research is complete. For the time being, I should have fewer dreams that someone is trying to slip me a mickey.