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What is Regulated Medical Waste?



August 5, 2021



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What is Regulated Medical Waste?

What is Regulated Medical Waste? Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) is also called “infectious medical” or “biohazardous” waste. It is medical waste that is contaminated or could potentially be contaminated with infectious materials and pathogens that can pose a significant risk of transmitting infection. The possible infection spread could harm people, animals, communities, and the environment. Each state has very strict guidelines regarding the handling, storage, transporting, and disposal of RMW that must be complied with. RMW is required to be collected and rendered harmless by a licensed and professional medical waste company such as Healthcare Waste Management. State laws differ from state-to-state, often involving a variety of state government agencies. All states require that RMW be rendered harmless prior to being taken to a final safe landfill for disposal.

RMW History/Background

What is Regulated Medical Waste? Standards have been established for the handling, storage, transporting, and ultimate disposal of RMW due to a dark past. In the 1980s there wasn’t any form of regulation and when used syringes were found washed up on several beaches on the East Coast, Congress enacted the MWTA (Medical Waste Tracking Act) that required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to play a central role in creating a set of standards for the safety of people and the environment. The initial 2-year MWTA phase was governed by federal government agencies which would then hand off the responsibilities of compliance to each state division. The initial states that took on the MWTA standards included: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and then in Puerto Rico.

During the 2-year period of the MWTW, the data collected allowed the EPA  to define the condition that the highest potential of disease transmission is during the point of generation with a lessening during the continued life cycle of the medical waste. Unlike biohazard waste, which has a continued and long-term danger, RMW could be considered an “occupational concern,” with a lower risk of danger to the environment. The MWTA was used as a model for each state to develop their individual guidelines for handling and disposing of RMW.

While states adopted the federal standards established by the MWTA, more detailed guidelines may differ in each state. The standards include:

State and Federal Agencies Involved with RMW Guidelines

The regulation of the RMW stream is now governed by most states, however, there are some federal agencies that remain in control of overall regulatory scheme for RMW. Some of these agencies include:

State Medical Waste Regulations: Each state has been required to establish regulations for medical waste and the laws are often different in each state.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Regulations: Some states operate with their own individual OSHA programs. OSHA has standards regarding various RMW and biohazard waste standards as well as requirements for education for the protection of workers, the public, and the environment.

DOT (Department of Transportation): This federal agency defines and governs the requirements for transporting all types of medical waste.

U.S. EPA Regulations: While the federal EPA doesn’t play a major role in the management of medical waste for many states, it does have regulations that dictate requirements for incinerator emissions and requirements under the FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) for some types of technologies for medical waste treatment that makes use of chemicals for waste treatment.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control): Has a strict set of guidelines for the control of infection.


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