March 5, 2009
EPA scales back waste disposal survey
Agency seeks information on veterinarians' waste disposal practices
By: Edie Lau
For The VIN News Service
A proposed survey on pharmaceutical disposal practices at
veterinary offices and other medical facilities will be vastly
shortened to lighten the burden on respondents, an official at the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week.
Hessenauer of the EPA's Engineering and Analysis Division in its Office
of Science and Technology told The VIN News Service that the survey may
be scaled back to as few as one or two pages. The original draft was 28
pages, including a table of contents, instructions, definitions and
The purpose of the survey is to determine to what
extent the health services industry is disposing of unused
pharmaceuticals by pouring them down drains or flushing them down
toilets. Doing so is not illegal, and drug residues are showing up in
streams, rivers and lakes possibly as a result. The risk is unclear,
but scientists are concerned that drug compounds could harm aquatic
ecosystems and/or end up in drinking water.
In shortening the
survey, Hessenauer said, the EPA is acknowledging concerns that
answering the questionnaire would require of participants too much time
and money. The EPA had calculated that the survey would take the
average participant 41 hours and cost $1,463.
Of 3,544 parties it has proposed to survey, 296 are veterinary offices.
comments to the EPA, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
objected to including veterinarians at all, arguing that most of its
members work in small clinics that contribute negligibly to
pharmaceutical water pollution.
Hessenauer said representatives for dentists made the same case.
since the survey's aim is to determine to what extent various sectors
of the medical industry contribute, Hessenauer said the EPA can't
exempt any group without some objective evidence or information about
their drug disposal practices.
"Hopefully, we'll get honest answers (to the survey)," she said.
said a Federal Register notice of the retooled proposed survey will be
posted this summer, probably July. The earliest the survey would be
distributed is November, she said.
In a separate but related
proposal, the EPA is considering allowing generators of pharmaceutical
wastes to come under the auspices of the federal Universal Waste Rule
rather than the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
change would enable facilities to accumulate more wastes for a longer
time period on their premises. Disposal would still be at a
hazardous-waste facility, according to EPA spokeswoman Latisha Petteway.
AVMA told the EPA that while its members generate little in the way of
hazardous pharmaceutical waste, it appreciated the greater flexibility
allowed under the plan.
The comment period for the proposal ended Wednesday. An EPA official said the rule will be finalized in late 2010.
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