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How Improper Medical Waste Disposal Affects Our Environment

October 14, 2021

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How Improper Medical Waste Disposal Affects Our Environment

How Improper Medical Waste Disposal Affects Our Environment. It is ironic that 33 years after the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 was initiated, we are still having the same concerns in 2021. Below is a brief history of what led to the medical waste tracking act of 1988.

“Concern for the potential health hazards of medical wastes grew in the 1980s after medical wastes were washing up on several east coast beaches. This prompted Congress to enact The MWTA of 1988.”

Did you know in 2021 we are still having the same concerns? In July of 2021 five New Jersey beaches were closed due to syringes, medical waste washing up on shore.

It prompted one to wonder, how can this still be happening all these years later? The East Coast has some of the toughest medical waste regulations in the country.

Sewer Systems One Theory

One possible explanation of the medical waste washing up on east coast beaches in 2021 is the sewer systems. The sewer systems use a combined sewer system that handles raw sewage and storm water runoff in the same pipes. When the water treatment plants cannot handle the handle the combination of runoff and normal raw sewage, an overflow is triggered, run off water and raw sewage is dumped into the Passaic River. Needles and other trash being flushed through city sewers or discarded improperly may then be swept into the ocean, to eventually wash up on far away beaches.

The system built to save neighborhoods from flooding, is the sewer system that handles both kinds of wastewater in a single network of pipes, these pipes quickly funnel the mixture away from the communities. Aside from the medical waste, when the overflow is triggered, there is also raw sewage being dumped into our waterways, not as visible as medical waste on the beaches, but not any less concerning.

Ocean Dumping Another Theory

The President in 1988, November 18 signed into law the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988, which prohibits all municipal sewage sludge and industrial waste dumping into the ocean after December 31, 1991. Since this has been in effect since 1991, how are these cities still allowed to have these overflow triggers that dump raw sewage into our waterways 30 years later?

Even though this act has been in place for 30 years, there is still garbage and medical waste washing up on our shores from New Jersey to Florida. It could be entering the ocean from one of two activities like, no-fault hurricane-type scenarios, or improper disposal.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it is coming from our own country but nevertheless it is reaching our shores and affecting our environment.

Bloodborne Pathogens

There are studies that show bacteria could not survive in the ocean because of the light and heat but Linda Sedlacek, PBAU associate professor of oceanography and Earth science is finding otherwise. There was a hurricane “Isaias”. Hurricane Isaias was a category one hurricane that made landfall at Ocean Isle Beach, NC during the evening of August 3, 2020, with maximum sustained winds near 85 mph.

From a single lancet picked up after Isaias, four different bacteria are growing, including blood eating bacteria believed to be a pathogen.

According to and cited from, Sea Angles. The Sea Angels are a 501c3 nonprofit environmental conservation organization located in Palm Beach County, Florida. The effects of Medical Waste and the Environment are great including.


Have you ever considered there could be some medical waste in the ocean may be contaminated with blood or other body fluids of individuals diagnosed with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Imagine a day at the beach of fun and sun turns out to be the worst day ever by getting accidently stuck with washed up medical waste.


However, the toxins from medical waste, that either get dumped or swept into the ocean from hurricanes. Affects the sea life and organisms that eat plants or fish who have ingested or absorbed such wastes. Such medical wastes as drug or culture dish pollution or toxins are then passed along food chains in the ocean and can affect everything from sea coral to whales. Humans who in turn eat tainted seafood or plants may also ingest harmful toxins that affect human growth, development, and health.

Closed Beaches

Beaches are often closed, reducing tourism, recreation, and revenue for ocean-side cities, when medical waste is found floating in the water or washing up on shore. One of the most common incidents is the discovery of syringes and needles, which may be contaminated or infected with hepatitis or other blood-borne pathogens and diseases.

Flushing Medications and the Environment

Just a few years ago, that was the default. But now pretty much everyone agrees it’s a bad idea because some of the more than $230 billion worth of prescription drugs used by Americans every year will make it through the sewage treatment process and into the waterways. (The Food and Drug Administration still recommends flushing OxyContin, Percocet, morphine, and a couple of dozen other drugs so kids and pets can’t fish them out of the trash.)  Even though the FDA recommends flushing the above-described meds, most, if not all experts say no.

A recent study shows that 80 percent of US streams contain small amounts of human medicines.  Sewage and water reclamation systems cannot remove these medicines from the processed water that is released into lakes, rivers and eventually into the oceans.  Fish and other aquatic animals have shown adverse effects from medicines in the water.  And even very small amounts of medicine have been found in drinking water.

Another recent study has found that human drugs can disrupt the biology and behavior of fish and other aquatic critters at very low concentrations. “You can have measurable behavioral effects in fish and shellfish even at the parts per billion level,” says Christian Daughton, a veteran EPA scientist who studies how pharmaceuticals affect waterways.

Some drugs apparently accumulate in fish over time: One study published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Science found that male fish whose brains contained traces of Zoloft appeared less anxious. And while that might seem amusing, these fish are also less effective at seeking shelter from predators.

One of the lead researchers, Bryan Brooks, director of the environmental health science program at Baylor University, told me that antibiotic waste, which is associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in fish, also is a big problem in the wild.  The fact that the average consumer in the US eats as much as 16 pounds of seafood per year, the long-term effects on humans could be dangerous.

Throughout the US, there are several major pharmacies that have medication take back programs.

Exposure to Viral and Bacterial Infection

Medical waste found in the ocean or washed up on shorelines may contain strains of bacteria or viruses that could affect human as well as sea life.

The Importance of Disposing Sharps Properly

Sharps are one of the most dangerous forms of medical waste, due to its ability to puncture the skin and possibly transmit bloodborne pathogen diseases, from HIV, to Hepatitis B, and more.

If you use sharps in the home, flushing your sharps down the sewer is a dangerous practice. You could be jeopardizing the health of the public, from sanitary workers to beach goers.

If you use sharps, proper sharps disposal is required. You can get a sharps disposal container at most any drug store or big box stores. Most, if not all communities have a safe sharps disposal system in place for the used sharps containers, fire and police departments, health departments and more will often accept your full containers, free of charge.

Boston has even enacted a community syringe redemption program that picks up an average of 17,000 needles a week. Discarded needles adversely affect communities from youth football teams to children in the park. One east coast football team had to merge with another team just to avoid a public field where numerous discarded needles had to be picked up before every practice or game.

How Can You Help?


Please be responsible if you are an individual sharps user and only place discarded sharps in an approved FDA cleared sharps container. Never flush, toss, or liter your sharps waste. Used needles in our sewer systems or picked up by heavy rainfalls and swept away in our drainage systems can pollute our waterways, beaches, and parks causing harm to all living things.


When it comes to hiring a medical waste disposal company you will want to ensure you are choosing the company for the right reasons. We know cost is always a deciding factor, but it should not be the only factor and here is why.

To good to be true, sometimes a low price just gets you in a contract and then as time goes by, cost goes up for no apparent reason. No changes in quantity, service, or frequency just higher cost.

Another consideration is service, for a company to provide great service they need to be able to make changes on the fly to meet your needs. Simply put they need to own the assets, that make it possible to service your account.

Let’s say you have a busy month and waste is pilling up, does the company you are contracted with also directly employ the drivers? Do they own a fleet of trucks? Can they turn someone around? Send out another truck? Does that company you are contracted with directly own the assets that service your facility? It may surprise you to find out some companies only own the paperwork you signed and sub-contract out the work.

Do they own the treatment facilities that make your medical waste non-infectious? One way to make sure your medical waste does not end up in the environment is to hire a company that owns the treatment plants that destroy your medical waste. They will have to have a state medical waste processing permit or license and stay current with regulations, knowing they are licensed and regulated can offer piece of mind that your waste is being properly destroyed.

In Wisconsin and in Indiana there are only four Permitted Facilities per state, meaning only four medical waste companies in all of the state can actually treat your medical waste, we have processing plants in each state, we are one of the four in each state. In most states the numbers are similar only six companies in Illinois are permitted medical waste treatment facilities.

About Healthcare Waste Management

Healthcare Waste Management is proud to bring a first-class medical waste disposal experience to our customers. From the local medical office to national healthcare systems, we bring innovation and customer service that is unparalleled.

That’s a strong statement but we back it up by owning your medical waste from start to finish. We own the trucks that come to your facility, we employ the drivers that come into your facility, and we own the destruction plants that destroy your waste.

By having one company handle your waste from ‘cradle-to-grave’ allows us to bring our customers, the best process, products, and services with significant savings compared to the industry standard pricing.

We do this while reducing our client’s impact on the environment which is a true win-win. Best processes, pricing and practices is what we built our company on.

Call Healthcare Waste Management today to experience the difference 888-427-5797


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