Veterinary Medical Waste Disposal

Medical Waste Disposal for Veterinarians

Veterinary offices deal with animals that could contain pathogens that are contagious to humans, the community, and the environment. Hazardous medical waste in governed by federal, state, and local guidelines for every location that generates the waste. Their rules and laws are governed on a state level, and each state may have a different set of requirements. Each state department of health and environmental agencies also have varying definitions of regulated medical waste and medical waste in general. 

Regulation Agencies

There are multiple agencies involved in regulating and disposal of medical waste, due to the variety of medical waste products that can be generated at veterinary medical wasteveterinary practices.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulates the disposal of any items with an impact on the environment. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulates any factor that may be associated with potential hazardous waste substance exposure with employees. NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) is the source of guidelines for products that are used within the workplace that may have human and/or public health impact. DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) is in charge of regulation of controlled substance disposal.

Cradle-to-Grave Responsibility

Any organization that generates medical waste is responsible for the storage, transport, and disposal in a method referred to as “cradle-to-grave.” This means that they must comply with all official guidelines and have appropriate documentation for all aspects of the medical waste, including final disposal processes. Compliancy with laws and procedures established by federal organizations include DOT (Department of Transportation) and NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). These can include regulation of any laboratory specimens and chemicals used in the practice. If any medical waste is shipped, it is subject to the FAA regulations, which complies with the regulations established by DOT. NRC provides regulations to any veterinary practice that is involved in radionuclide therapy and nuclear scintigraphy.

Basic definitions of medical waste agreed upon by most states:

  • Medical waste are waste products that can’t be categorized as general waste, and is produced in locations that generate tissue, blood, bodily fluids, or body parts that could be contagious.
  • Regulates medical waste (RMW) is also known by the name of biohazardous waste or infectious medical waste. It is a subset of medical waste that could contain elements that pose a significant risk of transmitting infection or disease to humans.

Most states offer a limitation of medical waste types for veterinarians as:

  • Most states define RMW as “sharps waste” (syringes, needles, scalpels, suture needles, and anything that can cut the skin).
  • Animal carcasses, bedding, body parts, and other wastes that relate to animals that are infected with organisms that are likely to be pathogenic to humans for the purpose of research, producing biological materials, in vivo testing, or for any other reason.
  • Pharmaceutical waste includes all medication types and classes.

Medical Waste Protocols and Procedures

All veterinary offices are required to comply with the same guidelines as other medical industries for medical waste storage, transport, and disposal. All medical waste must be placed in designated containers that are leak-proof, puncture proof, and sealed, and stored in locations that are away from staff or public access. All employees must receive training on medical waste exposure, handling, storage, and emergency procedures.


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