July 29, 2010

Beginning October 1, 2010 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and local authorities will be looking more closely at the waste handling practices of pharmacies. Currently, solid waste from most pharmacies is disposed of in dumpsters with other solid waste. Liquid pharmaceutical wastes are often disposed by flushing down the drain that flows to a local sewage treatment plant.

Although sewage treatment plants can remove some impurities, many pharmaceuticals may pass through to the receiving river or stream. The MPCA and other environmental agencies are concerned with the effects that these pharmaceuticals have on the river and stream ecosystems and whether these substances are absorbed into fish tissues and in other wildlife. News outlets are carrying stories about the new regulation and consequences for failing to comply. Seehttp://www.startribune.com/local/99158544.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU.

Certain components of the waste stream from pharmacies may contain hazardous wastes – wastes that are toxic, corrosive, reactive or otherwise classified as hazardous. The MPCA has determined that extra precautions and special handling need to be taken with those wastes. The MPCA maintains that hazardous waste – even small quantities that may be generated by small businesses such as pharmacies – can cause harm to the environment. According to the MPCA, solid waste facilities – permitted landfills – are not equipped or designed for the hazardous waste components of wastes from pharmacies.

What does this change in regulation mean for pharmacies and their owners?

Pharmacies should review their waste handling practices and, if appropriate, make changes. If a pharmacy owner has questions about proper practices, they should consider consulting with professionals who can advise of proper waste handling practices.

If pharmacies determine that they generate hazardous wastes, they will need to collect, containerize, label and manage these wastes separately for other solid wastes. Most, importantly, they will need to ensure this hazardous waste stream is disposed of at an approved permitted facility.

Will pharmacies face penalties or other sanctions if they fail to comply?

Yes, if violations are found, penalties could follow. Serious consequences may flow from the improper management of hazardous wastes. The MPCA and other authorities have the authority to conduct inspections and review waste handling practices of all businesses. If violations are found, the MPCA may issue citations and seek civil penalties. Knowing violations could subject a pharmacy or responsible corporate officers to potential criminal violations. In some cases local authorities or the MPCA may decide to refer a matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pharmacies across Minnesota. How will the MPCA enforce this new policy across the State?

The MPCA has launched an education campaign. The MPCA utilizes many tools – mailings, websites, seminars, working with trade associations – to get the word out. The MPCA may inspect pharmacies as part of their compliance efforts.

Pharmacies in the Twin Cities metropolitan area may face increased scrutiny especially with regard to hazardous wastes they may generate. The metropolitan counties in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area – Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Washington, Anoka, Scott and Carver Counties – each have a hazardous waste ordinance. The ordinances incorporate the state hazardous waste rules. The staff of the metropolitan counties are fully authorized to administer the hazardous waste regulations. County staff may take action on their own or they may choose to refer such cases to the MPCA or the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Each of the counties also has a staff of inspectors who conduct regular inspections. As a result, Twin Cities area pharmacies may be inspected more frequently than pharmacies that are located outstate. Counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area fund their regulatory efforts by assessing fees on businesses that generate hazardous waste.

At Hessian & McKasy’s Environmental Law Attorney Practice Group, our attorneys advise businesses and business owners about developments in federal, state and local regulations. The lawyers in the Environmental Law Attorney Practice Group help clients develop compliance programs, respond to inspections and enforcement actions. We provide our clients with innovative, cost effective legal service packages.  To learn more, please see:http://www.enviroattorney.net/sample-price-list.php. For more information on the services offered by the Environmental Attorney Practice Group, please visit.:http://www.enviroattorney.net/practice/professional_services.php.

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