Stop flushing pills down the toilet.

That’s the message behind a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that would ban health care facilities from disposing of hazardous pharmaceuticals by flushing them.

It might have surprised some people that the EPA allows it all, but for those hospitals and other health care facilities currently using the disposal method, significant changes may be required if the rule is enacted.

The EPA estimates that the proposal is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually.

The rule would fall under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and is open for comment from the public until Dec. 24.

Officials for the EPA are eager to hear from the field. “We urge you to comment,” says Kristin Fitzgerald, an environmental protection specialist for the EPA, speaking at a Practice Greenhealth webinar on the topic yesterday. She asked commenters to be specific about what they like and don’t like in their responses.

Though the new stricter rules apply to the roughly 20 percent of hazardous drugs that are not eligible for manufacturers’ credit that are flushed down the toilet, the EPA encourages health care facilities to apply the strictures to all its hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.

A separate but related proposed rule would relax hazardous disposal requirements that recognize that health care facilities are not manufacturers, and should be treated differently in that regard.

 “We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting, while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals,” wrote Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, in a blog posting when the proposed rule was released.

The rule includes several technical changes regarding the classification of health care facilities, and as to which drugs qualify, much of which is explained in a Frequently Asked Questions section of the EPA website.