Federal Water Tap, September 7: EPA Proposes Ban on Sewer Disposal of Hazardous Medications by Hospitals

The Rundown

President Obama visits Alaska, to talk climate change. The EPA proposes a ban on flushing certain medications down the drain. Might the Gold King mine spill revive interest in Congress in mining reform? The National Academy of Sciences assesses the Everglades restoration while the New Jersey coast builds resilience against flooding.

“I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.” — President Barack Obama, speaking at the GLACIER conference, in Anchorage, Alaska.

By the Numbers

6,400 tons: Amount of pharmaceutical waste that will be prevented from entering waterways because of a proposed ban on the disposal practice for healthcare facilities. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
81: Production wells, out of 612 regulated by the state, that draw from Virginia’s Coastal Plain Aquifer and are closest to the inland front of subsurface saltwater. (U.S. Geological Survey)
160,000: Estimate of the number of abandoned hardrock mines in the American West and Alaska. (Government Accountability Office)

Reports and Studies

Everglades Restoration
The National Academy of Sciences is beginning a five-year study, ordered by Congress, of the progress made under the Everglades restoration plan. Approved in 2000, the multi-billion dollar plan is designed to reduce water pollution, increase flood protection, and rebalance river flows in south Florida.

Abandoned Mine Cleanup
The Gold King spill in Colorado, according to the Congressional Research Service, might spur interest in federal “Good Samaritan” legislation that allows third parties to clean up abandoned mines without taking full legal responsibility for the polluted water.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced in March the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act, which includes Good Samaritan provisions. The bill is still in committee.

News Briefs

Drug Disposal Rules Revision
Hospitals, nursing homes, reverse distributors, and other handlers of medications will not be allowed to dispose of pharmaceuticals classified as hazardous waste by flushing them down the drain, according to a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule.

Hazardous pharmaceutical waste is defined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. The proposal does not apply to all unwanted pills and medications, but the EPA suggests that healthcare facilities, as a best practice, not flush any drugs.

The EPA proposal is similar to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regulations that flushing is not a proper method for disposing of narcotics and other controlled substances.

Climate Talks
White House advisor Brian Deese will travel to New Delhi and Beijing on September 9 and 10, to discuss climate change issues with senior officials in both countries.

On the Radar

Rebuilding After Hurricane Sandy
A project that will help cities on the northern New Jersey coast avoid the worst flood damages that occurred during Hurricane Sandy will begin an environmental review. The project combines green infrastructure to slow the movement of water, as well as expanded treatment and storage capacity at existing facilities. It was one of six winners in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development competition and was awarded $US 230 million in federal money.

Gold King Mine Hearing
On September 16, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will discuss the EPA’s response to the Gold King mine spill and the spill’s effects on the environment. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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