Routine DEP inspections led to penalties against CVS

The state enforcement action that led to nearly $269,000 in penalties against CVS began over a year ago with routine inspections at 10 of the chain’s stores. It ended with a consent order against 138 pharmacies found to have improperly dumped wastewater into sewers or septic systems.

The violations involve all but two of the Rhode Island-based chains stores in Connecticut, and involve three kinds of liquid wastes: rinse water from cleaning photographic equipment; photographic processing chemicals; and drug wastes such as rinse water from cleaning prescription drug mortars and pestles, and over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup.

The case shows it’s important for companies to check that they comply with laws, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Amey Marrella said.

“CVS simply failed to ensure the proper handling of wastewater from processing photos and failed to ensure the proper and safe disposal of pharmaceutical products,” Marrella said in a statement. “The company is now taking steps to change its business practices and come into compliance with the law.”

That means, among other things, the proper use of equipment that captures and recycles silver and silver byproducts that pollute waterways where wastewater ultimately drains, even from septic systems.

Pharmaceutical wastes, Marrella also noted, have been shown to hurt aquatic life, although research in this area is still new. CVS was careful to point out that it had not discharged prescription drugs themselves. In Connecticut, wastewater is not permitted to drain into any reservoirs or wells that are drinking water sources.

A CVS spokesman said Wednesday that CVS has stopped discarding photographic wastewater down drains at all of its Connecticut stores, instead collecting and hauling the wastes away. The stores will continue to process photographs, said Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations.

Photographic processing uses several chemicals and substances, but the one that caused the trouble here is silver.

“The state has unique requirements pertaining to the discharge of silver-bearing photo processing wastewaters, including monthly testing of the amount of silver removed from wastewater and the concentration of silver in the wastewater that is discharged,” DeAngelis said.

The consent order, which is dated Oct. 22, gave CVS 60 days to write new standard operating procedures, install signs, and train employees. DeAngelis said CVS would “take a conservative approach and refrain from discharging any photo processing wastewater until we determine how the state’s requirements can be efficiently incorporated into the operation of our photo labs.”

It requires CVS to pay the state $223,900 in civil penalties and to pay $45,000 to the Connecticut Fund for the Environment for projects in New Haven and Bridgeport.

The 10 original stores involved in the inspection were:

Stores in Old Saybrook, Southbury, Clinton, and Guilford, discharging pharmaceuticals or pharmaceutical-laden rinse water and rinse water from photo processing into septic systems without permits;

Stores in Vernon, Wethersfield, and East Haven, discharging photographic processing chemicals into sewage systems;

A store on Main Street in East Hartford, discharging both rinse water and photographic chemicals into the town’s sewage system;

In Connecticut it is illegal to discharge any photo processing chemicals at all into septic systems. In places with sewage treatment plants, the limit is 5 milligrams of silver per liter.