Minn. pharmacies face rules on disposing of hazardous materials
By Danielle Cintron, St. Cloud Times
Sartell, Minn. (AP) - In December, pharmacist Jim Gotta of Country Store and Pharmacy in Sartell received a letter from the state of Minnesota instructing him on the right way to dispose of hazardous waste -- or else face penalties.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency informed him that beginning Oct. 1 "all health care facilities will be subject to full enforcement of hazardous waste regulations, including the possibility of financial penalties for noncompliance."
"Before the letter, we would put our hazardous waste in an unmarked plastic bag and put it in the trash bin," Gotta said. "Now MPCA requires us to have a special container and to have a waste recycler come to pick up the materials."
The rules on proper disposal of hazardous waste were written in the early 1980s by the Environmental Protection Agency and were originally geared toward larger industries, hospitals and other "large-quantity generators."
It was not until the early '90s that the focus also fell on the smaller-quantity generators such as pharmacies, dental offices, veterinarian offices and long-term care facilities. All of these generate a certain amount of hazardous waste.
The MPCA letter gave health care providers a website to visit to understand the new regulations being placed upon them as well as to go through the required training needed to handle hazardous wastes.
"This new enforcement seems appropriate," Gotta said. "Presently, I'm holding on to all the hazardous waste. I'm sitting on a bunch of stuff that I'm anxious to get rid of. I'm pretty excited about getting this stuff out of the water and landfills."
Coborn's Long-Term Care Pharmacy put together a meeting July 14 to discuss the changes with long-term care providers and pharmacies.
"Our customers had questions about the new laws that we didn't have the answers to," said Mark Boe, business manager of Coborn's Long-Term Care Pharmacy. "So we called MPCA and invited small-quantity generators of hazardous waste to attend."
Brandon Finke, a MPCA hazardous waste inspector, was asked to speak at the seminar.
"They were informed about the responsibilities they have as far as identifying chemical waste, determining whether or not it is hazardous and having to dispose of the waste through either a collection facility or notifying their local water treatment plant to find out if the waste is treatable," he said.
The long-term care facilities also have the option of sending their waste to a central location to have the waste collected in one area. Boe said Coborn's is looking into the idea.
"As a Long-Term Care Pharmacy, we don't think it will be legal to allow our customers to bring us their waste and act as a central waste collector, but we haven't ruled it out. We're going to look at what's the most economic and efficient way to dispose of the waste," he said.
Currently, a hazardous waste disposal service, Clean Harbors, provides a pick-up service for Coborn's.
"There's been a huge spike in business since this ruling has been put into effect," said Mellissa Turner, hospital project manager and senior lead chemist at Clean Harbors. "Everyone wants to do the right thing. People were probably just throwing things away before."
Clean Harbors is a leading provider for disposal in North America and uses incinerators, landfills and waste water treatment to dispose of all collected items.
"If given the choice, I'd rather deal with a local disposal service," Gotta said. "I haven't gotten through all of the training yet so I'm going with a reference right now."
Proper disposal of hazardous waste is addressed by the EPA in regards to the large quantity generators all the way to the individual.
"We are only enforcing the regulations among those businesses with seven patients or more and have a locked medicine storage area," Finke said.
"Long-term care facilities where patients are regulating their own pharmaceuticals are considered households. We do encourage households to properly dispose of their hazardous waste, but there isn't any kind of enforcement upon them."
Stearns County Environmental Specialist Troy Freihammer said the county will be looking into providing a collection area for hazardous waste for individual use.
"We know for sure that we want one in the St. Cloud Sheriff's Office, because there are potential controlled substances that could be dropped off, and it was recommended that law enforcement handle it," he said. "Hopefully, we'll have one early next year, but it all depends on funding."
Chisago County has a central collection location for individual use. The one projected to be used in St. Cloud would be for pharmaceuticals; the first formal discussion of the drop box will be in August.
Information from: St. Cloud Times
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