Medical Waste Disposal Guide. Medical waste disposal requirements differ from state to state as well as complying with some federal laws. There are also different rules depending upon whether a facility that generates the medical waste is large or small. The many variations can make following guidelines a bit confusing. States have their own EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements along with other state agencies that work in conjunction with federal agencies such as DOT (Department of Transportation).
To compound the situation, any facility that generates medical waste is responsible for the waste in a concept called “cradle-to-grave.” The translation means that a generator is held accountable to ensure that all medical waste that they generate is properly handled, stored, transported and ultimately treated and disposed of to render it harmless. Lack of compliance can result in fines and fees that can often be exorbitant.
To eliminate the stress of compliance, a majority of medical facilities make use of a licensed and professional medical waste disposal company. However, knowing and understanding the rules and guidelines will protect people, the community and the environment. Here is some of the information that can assist every facility towards that goal.
There are over 6 million tons of medical waste generated in the U.S. each year from hospitals, clinics, dental offices, veterinarians, funeral homes, research labs, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, long term care, tattoo parlors and even body piercing companies. However, not all medical waste is alike. Medical waste is any item that is derived from the care of a patient, contains blood or bodily fluids, is either human or animal tissue, or is a biological exposed to viruses or bacteria that could potentially contain contaminants that could be transmitted to humans.
Understanding the types of medical waste helps in compliance with the various laws:
A Note about Pharmaceutical Waste:
States have varying guidelines regarding pharmaceutical waste as some forms of this waste are considered to be within the hazardous waste category. In the past, much of the pharmaceutical waste was simply dumped into the water system. The problem with this is that none of the waste management agencies that clean and filter water were set up to filter out medications. This means that the medications entered into the water system for the consumer. To address these issues there are mail-in programs for pharmaceutical waste as well as national pharmaceutical drop off programs. The better medical waste management companies now also offer mail-in options for pharmaceutical waste.
Pharmaceutical waste is divided into four categories:
Any location that generates pharmaceutical waste must be familiar with the state and federal organizations involved in regulating medical waste. Compliancy with all of the laws is a requirement. Some states have guidelines that are more stringent than the federal rules. Agencies and organizations that govern the rules for pharmaceutical waste include:
A first key step is to become familiar with your state’s requirements as a “generator.” This typically involves registering your facility with both the state and federal agencies. In some states there are fees that have to be paid.
The next steps should include:
Coordinate with licensed, professional companies that are knowledgeable on all state and federal laws and will supply completed and accurate documentation.
Most states have their own OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines for training any individual that will be exposed to or work with medical waste. In states that don’t have their own OSHA guidelines, the state defaults to the federal guidelines. These training sessions are a requirement.
Many of the better medical waste disposal companies also offer training programs that are done at the convenience of the individual and offers accreditation when completed. Part of the “best practices” for the training should include:
Storage of all medical waste containers need to be:
Transport of all medical waste (except those designated as home generated):
Each state has its own rules and guidelines regarding small and large generators and their limitations. On-site facilities for medical waste treatment and disposal is both costly and time consuming so a majority of generators make use of off-site treatment facilities for disposal.
The right medical waste disposal company will have trained and licensed professionals, supply a generator with the proper containers, bags and labels, assist by offering training for staff, schedule convenient pickup dates and times, take the medical waste to the appropriate treatment facilities and supply all of the confirmation documentation that the medical waste was rendered harmless. The medical waste disposal company maintains knowledge of all state and federal laws so a facility can have peace of mind.
There are four methods of disposal and each must comply with state laws:
A fifth method referred to as “biological” is currently being examined. This form makes use of biological agents such as enzymes to offset the organisms that could cause harm.
One of the exceptions to the requirement of standard disposal methods for medical waste relates to containers that hold less than a few milliliters of blood. Each state has specific regulations on their state-approved amount and treatment and these smaller quantities of blood can be poured down a toilet or utility sink so that it’s discharged into sanitary sewers or septic tanks.
There has been no evidence that bloodborne diseases that have been in the blood poured into sewers or septic tanks have caused any transmission in contact with raw or treated sewage. Many of the pathogens that are bloodeborne, specifically the bloodeborne viruses, aren’t stable in the environment for long periods of time. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has added these factors as extra steps for disposal to increase the likelihood of inactivity for bloodeborne pathogens:
There are some medical waste situations that are required to have special considerations. Such medical waste could interact with standard treatment types, cause excessive problems, or create alternate waste that is also hazardous. These considerations include waste that is:
Part of the best practices of medical waste management is partnering with a licensed, professional medical waste management company. Their participation in the daily process of proper medical waste management will reduce the stress, anxiety, and potential for accidents. Some of the things that you look for in a reputable medical waste management company should include:
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