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Understanding Medical Waste Regulations

August 12, 2021

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Understanding Medical Waste Regulations

Understanding Medical Waste Regulations. Regulations regarding medical waste can be both confusing and complex. The reason for this is that each state is responsible for establishing their own guidelines, and while a majority may be similar, they can also differ. Although there isn’t a specific definition of medical waste by the federal government, each state’s regulations are required to make the determination of which wastes fall under the regulations that require special handling to ensure safety for people, animals, the community, and the environment.

There are federal agencies involved in some of these requirements including but not limited to: EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), DOT (Department of Transportation), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), CDC (Centers for Disease Control), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

The Reason:

Prior to the 1980s there weren’t any defined rules or laws in place for medical waste. It wasn’t until medical waste, which included hypodermic needles, washed up on the shores of some of the East Coast beaches that Congress enacted a two-year program of the MWTA (Medical Waste Tracking Act) for four states: New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island as well as Puerto Rico. The purpose was to identify which wastes would be included in any regulations, create a cradle-to-grave tracking program that was based on tracking forms initiated by the generators, require standards in management for segregating, packaging labeling, and the storage of the waste, create requirements for record-keeping, and establish penalties that would be charged for mismanagement. The model that was created because of this program has become the mainstay for each state in establishing their regulations.

State Regulations:

Under the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), the federal government has established strict regulations for hazardous waste regulations, however, this is not the case for medical waste. Almost all fifty states have some form of regulations for medical waste, but they vary from state to state. While some states have created a model like the MWTA, others do not.  In a majority of states, the EPA bears the responsibility for the development and enforcement of medical waste management and disposal regulations. In other states, their state department of health plays an important role or might be responsible as an agency that leads as the main regulatory agency.

Most of the states have established specific regulations regarding medical waste packaging, storing, and transport. Some states require that healthcare facilities register as well as get waste permits. Other state rules require that any generator of medical waste create contingency plans, have on-site treatment, training, tracking the waste, and reporting and recordkeeping.

Involvement of Federal Agencies

While the EPA is no longer centrally involved in the management of medical waste, it does have regulations on waste incinerator emissions. There are additional laws that must be complied with such as the FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) for specific medical waste that make use of chemicals as a process of medical waste treatment.

The DOT applies to those that transport medical waste and the CDC has strict rules for the control of infection.

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