EPA Takes Hard Look at Unused Drug Disposal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans a study of unused pharmaceuticals discharged from healthcare facilities ...

Sep 1st, 2008

by Patrick Crow

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans a study of unused pharmaceuticals discharged from healthcare facilities as part of its strategy to address the risks associated with emerging contaminants. It plans to send questionnaires to medical facilities and veterinary facilities regarding their disposal of unused pharmaceuticals.

Benjamin Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, said the agency also has asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to provide scientific advice on the potential risk to human health from low levels of pharmaceutical residues in drinking water. NAS will convene a workshop Dec. 11-12 on methods for screening and prioritizing pharmaceuticals to determine potential risk.

EPA said it also has expanded a fish tissue study to look for pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) residues, it's developing a methodology to establish water quality criteria to protect aquatic life, and it's studying occurrence of PPCPs in sewage sludge and wastewater. The agency also is participating in a World Health Organization study of appropriate risk assessment methods for pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants.

Ballast water discharges

EPA has proposed two general permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to tighten control of discharges from commercial and recreational vessels. It estimates the action could effect up to 91,000 commercial vessels and 13 million recreational boats.

Under a court ruling now under appeal, vessel owners or operators whose discharges were previously exempt from CWA requirements will require a permit as of Sept. 30. EPA is proposing control technologies and management practices that enhance environmental protection and are practical to implement.

The commercial and large recreational vessel general permit (VGP) would cover all commercial and recreational vessels 79 feet or longer. For those carrying ballast water, it incorporates Coast Guard mandatory ballast water management and exchange standards, and supplemental requirements. The VGP would provide technology-based and water-quality-based effluent limits for other types of discharges including deck runoff, bilge water, gray water and other pollutants. It also establishes specific corrective actions, inspections and monitoring as well as record keeping and reporting requirements. Only a few vessels would have to submit a notice of intent for coverage.

The agency said the permit for recreational vessels measuring less than 79 feet in length contains simpler provisions and they would only need to comply with established best management practices. The Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association objected to the proposed rule, saying it would stifle the development of technologies that can effectively kill or remove aquatic nuisance species.

Other developments

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill this fall to require EPA to reestablish a perchlorate in drinking water monitoring rule and warn consumers about the chemical compound in drinking water. A toxic component of rocket fuel, it's contaminated groundwater in 35 states.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined there would be no significant impact from a surface erosion projection project at Rio Algom Mining's mill at Ambrosia Lake, NM. The project is the final component of a site reclamation plan.

EPA, the Coast Guard, and other federal agencies issued guidelines for oil spill response training exercises from 2009-2013.

An EPA task force on Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico watershed nutrients issued an action plan to reduce hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. It builds on a 2001 plan, utilizing new approaches and science.

Members of the Total Coliform Rule/Distribution System Advisory Committee recommended revisions to the 1989 Total Coliform Rule (TCR), as well as research and information collection to better understand potential public health impacts from distribution system conditions and control microbial drinking water contamination.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for more than 10 years. Crow is now a Houston, TX-based freelance writer.


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