It wasn’t until the 80’s that the public was even remotely aware of the fact that biohazardous waste was being dropped into the landfills, and that this could be a potential problem. But when syringes started washing up on shore, people started to realize there was something wrong. This prompted the government to act fast, and subsequently create, implement and enforce what was known as the Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA). This was a 2-year regulation in effect from 1989 to 1991, that was accompanied by studies and research, which together set the wheels in motion for our current legislation.
What Is Regulated Medical Waste?
RMW, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is any biomedical waste that has been contaminated by body fluids or any other potentially harmful substances. It is also known by several different names such as biohazardous waste or infectious medical waste. By virtue of it often containing blood or bodily fluids, it is sometimes called red bag waste. Within the setting of a medical facility, many items often come into contact with blood and other infectious material.
Compliance rules on RMW are simple and at the same time complex. Although many of these regulations are common and widespread, they can vary from country to country and even from state to state.
Regulations For RMW Disposal
RMW is unique to the healthcare sector and this uniqueness poses some complex challenges. This is due to the fact that most regulations are defined at the state level, versus at the federal level. This often leads to the authority for governance of RMW coming from multiple agencies. There isn’t any provision for an explicit definition of medical waste in federal law, thus allowing for state departments of health to issue governing regulations.
Overview Of Past Regulations
In the late 1980’s, while the present system for medical waste regulation and disposal was being developed, the EPA played a central role in the development and enforcement of regulations for RMW.
A general system was developed on the federal level and adopted, with small variations throughout the states. After this initial phase, a regulatory framework for medical waste disposal (which was different from the typical system) was established with more discretion being left to individual states.
The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA), which was in effect for just 4 states for those two first years, had the following responsibilities:
- Identify which wastes would be regulated
- Establish a lifetime tracking system
- Require management standards for separation, packaging, labeling, and storage of waste
- Create requirements for record keeping
- Define penalties for mismanagement
The regulations enacted under the MWTA expired on June 21, 1999. The information gathered during this period helped the EPA to arrive at the conclusion that the point of generation of medical waste had the greatest disease-causing potential. Thus, medical waste was considered more of an occupational hazard than an environmental one, thus stripping the EPA of its central role. Clearly, views have changed with regards to the environment piece of this puzzle, but this was not yet on the radar nearly twenty years ago.
Overview Of Present Regulations
With the EPA no longer being central to RMW, state and federal agencies have assumed the responsibility of regulating their medical wastes.
Here are the key players in today’s medical waste legislation.
State Medical Waste Regulations
Although 50 states have medical waste regulations, they can differ extensively from one another, with some being fashioned after the MWTA and others bearing little or no resemblance to it at all. In most states, the EPA handles development and enforcement of regulations for RMW, while some states delegate this duty to the state department of health. Most states also have regulations with regards the packaging, disposal, storage and disposal of medical waste.
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or state OSHA programs, regulate several facets of medical waste, including management of sharps, requirements for storage of medical waste, labeling containers and employee training.
Even though the EPA doesn’t have a central role with respect to medical waste management, it still has active regulations controlling the emissions from medical waste incinerators as well as requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for some medical waste treatment technologies which use chemicals for treating medical waste.
The Department of Transportation defines RMW as a hazardous material. These rules, however, apply mostly to transporters but knowledge of the rules is important due to the liability associated with shipping waste off-site.
These regulations have been in place for some time now, and they help to ensure that regulated medical waste is properly disposed of. It’s important to understand the rules for your specific state, and always err on the side of caution when receiving a mixed message from different regulating bodies. Following the strictest set of rules will always be the best choice.
Learn more about OSHA Compliance, Medical Waste Management and Services and more, by getting in touch with Enviromerica today. We can ensure that you receive the best advice for optimizing your healthcare practice.