Safety Questions Raised Over the Disposal of Pharmaceuticals
Waste management practices at health care facilities are in question.
Many hospitals routinely have workers pour unneeded medications down the sink or flush them down the toilet, causing these substances to end up into municipal water supplies. This practice is also followed in homes and other facilities where people use medications, such as long-term care facilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strongly discourages the pouring or flushing of pharmaceutical drugs into the sewer system and has issued a new rule banning this practice for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals at health care facilities. However, the rule applies only to drugs considered hazardous waste, such as chemotherapy drugs, not most pharmaceuticals.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in contrast, has advised individuals to dispose of narcotics and other controlled substances down the drain or toilet in order to prevent animals and children from coming in contact with them.
Scientists are currently studying the effects of varying levels of pharmaceuticals in public water supplies. Until more information is available, some waste management authorities are requesting that hospitals use new disposal methods, such as a safe box that comes with a neutralizing solution to eliminate the effects of medications. However, hospitals have been slow to investigate and use new pharmaceutical disposal methods.