July 18, 2022

EPA’s Ban on Sewering Pharmaceuticals and the Water Reuse Action Plan

EPA published an introductory fact sheet discussing the recent ban on sewering hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. On August 21, 2019, healthcare facilities and reverse distributors were prohibited from disposing of their hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the drain.

The fact sheet provides guidance on what is considered a “healthcare facility” as defined in §266.500. Healthcare facilities include hospitals, health clinics, optical and dental providers, veterinary clinics, pharmacies, wholesale distributors, and military medical logistics facilities.

All pharmaceuticals sent for disposal are solid wastes. If a solid waste meets a listing description or exhibits a hazardous characteristic, it is a hazardous waste. Although the fact sheet states that approximately 30 pharmaceuticals would be hazardous waste pharmaceuticals if disposed of, it does not actually identify the drugs. Some limited information on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) “flush list” for households is also provided. Healthcare facilities are required to comply with EPA’s sewer ban, even for items on the flush list.

EPA also published a fact sheet for publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). The main enforcement vehicle for the sewer ban will be RCRA inspections by state or federal agencies. The fact sheet outlines the legal authorities POTWs may use to enforce sewer bans, primarily via the Clean Water Act pretreatment program.

Also of note is EPA’s water reuse action plan (WRAP), a collaborative effort of more than 100 partner organizations and EPA. Among other things, WRAP completed a project pertaining to FDA’s flush list. They have worked with specific localities, companies, and non-profit organizations to create drug take-back programs, which should reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals entering the water supply.


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