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Pharmaceutical Waste

Pharmaceutical waste includes expired pills, IV bags, vials for drugs, or anything that contains medicinal drugs that are expired or unused. The hazardous nature of pharmaceutical waste may be due to one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • it contains infectious agents 
  • it is genotoxic 
  • it contains toxic or hazardous chemicals or pharmaceuticals
  • it is radioactive 
  • it contains sharps

Exposure to Pharmaceutical Waste

Pharmaceutical Waste

Pathogens in pharmaceutical waste may enter the human body by a number of routes: 

  • through a puncture, abrasion, or cut in the skin 
  • through the mucous membranes 
  • by inhalation 
  • by ingestion

Improperly disposing of pharmaceutical waste can harm the environment and can contaminate drinking water. Poisoning can occur through direct contact with the product, inhalation of vapors, drinking contaminated water, or eating contaminated food. Other hazards may include the possibility of fire and contamination as a result of inadequate disposal such as burning or burying. Visit the DEA’s page for proper disposal information

Lastly, chemical residues discharged into the sewerage system may have adverse effects on the operation of biological sewage treatment plants or toxic effects on the natural ecosystems of receiving waters. Similar problems may be caused by pharmaceutical waste (i.e. antibiotics and other drugs, heavy metals such as mercury, phenols, and derivatives, and disinfectants and antiseptics).


Padmanabhan, K. K., & Barik, D. (2019). Health Hazards of Medical Waste and its Disposal. Energy from Toxic Organic Waste for Heat and Power Generation, 99–118.