After years of discussion, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals became effective Aug. 21, 2019. However, individual states will adopt the regulation at varying times between 2019 and 2022—and have the power to make it more stringent.
The rule represents a departure from the decades-old Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Writing for McKnight's Long-Term Care News Wade Scheel, Stericycle’s Director of Governmental Affairs states “Under the new EPA rule, health care facilities and reverse distributors will have to change how they currently handle, store, transport and dispose of hazardous waste.” Most hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, dental practices, skilled nursing facilities and long-term care organizations, as well as reverse distributors, will be affected.
How the EPA Final Rule Impacts Healthcare Facilities
The overarching intent of the rule is to make it easier and safer for health care entities to manage hazardous waste pharmaceuticals—and thus keep them from entering waterways and harming the environment. Wade points out this is important to understand as it explains a crucial compliance issue many health care organizations remain unaware of: the total and immediate ban on flushing hazardous pharmaceuticals down the drain.
“While effective dates to adopt the EPA rule vary by state, the exception to state adoption is the ban on flushing/sewering hazardous pharmaceuticals. That is effective in all states on Aug. 21, 2019,” he emphasizes.
Although the final rule promises clearer, more streamlined standards for handling hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, it’s important to note that it does not lessen the need for compliance. There is little room for confusion or inadequate management programs, notes Cara Simaga, Stericycle’s Director of Regulatory Affairs. Organizations that improperly handle hazardous waste pharmaceuticals still risk significant fines for non-compliance, as well as potential negative impacts to public health, safety and reputation.
Cara notes that “It’s important to understand your current hazardous waste generator status to know if the EPA’s final rule on hazardous waste pharmaceuticals applies to your facility when the rule is effective in your state.” In addition, she explains that liability also might be called into question if waste crosses state lines. “If you don’t know where your solid waste goes, consider still collecting these items as hazardous waste pharmaceuticals until all states have adopted the EPA rule, to ensure compliance,” she recommends.
Maintaining Regulatory Compliance Doesn't Have to be Done Alone
Staying on top of all the regulatory nuances and deadlines can challenge even the most effective management personnel, but organizations can rely on trained experts like those at Stericycle. Wade, Cara, and other Stericycle regulatory specialists have monitored the rule’s evolution since its initial proposal over a decade ago. The regulatory team has conducted specialized training—both internally and for customers—to help ensure that partners maintain compliance when the rule becomes effective in their states.
Health care organizations are invited to take advantage of Stericycle’s EPA Resource Hub. This central repository offers brief summaries of the rule’s requirements, a link to the full final rule, and other resources such as Cara Simaga’s webinar on the final rule, to promote greater understanding of the regulation. Additionally, Stericycle will monitor ongoing state adoptions of the final rule on hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. Continual updates on the EPA Resource Hub will help organizations support safe, eco-conscious and compliant disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.