In the US, state environmental and health departments are tasked with regulating businesses involved in medical waste disposal. However, many other different governmental agencies oversee the handling of regulated medical waste.
For instance, the FDA regulates the manufacturing of sharps containers, OSHA regulates the handling of medical waste by employees to guarantee their safety, and the USPS regulates how regulated medical waste is shipped through the mail. The DOT is tasked with regulating how regulated medical waste is shipped over the road.
Medical wastes are any item that comes into contact with body fluids in the course of any medical exercise. It is any solid waste that is produced during the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of humans. This sort of waste at some point used to be collected in special bags and plastic boxes and disposed of like normal trash. However, this process has been credited with spreading diseases and viruses and also causing outbreaks.
Today, the red containers and bags common in hospitals and doctors’ offices are now used to safely contain sharps, needles, and IV catheters that have come in contact with human blood or bodily fluid. Also note that medical waste may include paper towels, wipes, gloves, syringes without needles, bandages or dressings with little or no amount of dry blood or fluid, and any other material from medical care.
Syringes with needles or sharp objects that can easily pierce through a plastic bag will require a special storage container for extra protection. Note that properly disposing of regulated medical waste is a must because of the risk they pose to both humans and the environment.
The usual generators of this type of waste include veterinary clinics, health clinics, funeral homes, nursing homes, hospitals, medical research laboratories, physician offices, dentists, and home health care. These health professionals are always expected to understand how to protect themselves and their communities.
Medical Waste Regulators in the United States
Truth be told, there are numerous medical waste regulators in the United States and failure to comply with their regulations can have certain negative impacts on the health of employees. Owing to that, many prefer to work with a reputable medical waste disposal company to handle the complicated medical waste disposal process for them. Here are the top medical waste regulators in the United States;
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The unethical disposal of medical waste can pose a risk to both humans and the environment. Owing to that, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tends to most often get involved in medical waste disposal. Numerous laws give EPA authority to regulate medical waste, and each law is more or less focused on a specific “emission” or type of waste product. These laws include:
- The Clean Air Act
- The Clean Water Act
- The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
- The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- The Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)
The healthcare industry tends to produce a vast amount of regulated medical waste, and in that waste are materials that are toxic, radioactive, and infectious. Note that these materials can take on a wide array of gaseous, liquid, or solid forms, and it falls within the jurisdiction of the EPA to make sure all these forms are regulated to protect public and environmental health.
Most of these laws often focus on the final stage of medical waste disposal, especially where the waste finally makes its way into a landfill. There are specific wastes not allowed to enter landfills, while others are expected to undergo a treatment process before they are considered safe for disposal.
The U.S. Department of Transportation
Note that the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) applies to the transportation of any material considered capable of being an unreasonable threat to public health, safety, and property when transported.
Simply put, regulated medical waste is any material considered to contain an infectious substance. In recent times, the HMR has expanded the definition of medical waste to include biological products, cultures, and patient specimens.
This agency mandates that shippers and healthcare facilities follow certain guidelines for packaging and safely transporting regulated medical waste. It also notes that all employees who are directly or indirectly involved with the packaging process should be well trained in the process.
The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) tends to control medical waste safety in the workplace under their Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. This standard mandates all employees who are in contact with medical waste to be routinely trained on the right way to handle, store, label, and transport those wastes.
Also note that the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard warrants that facilities with occupational exposure to infectious materials make available an annual exposure control plan that notes all potential risks, evaluation procedures, and a schedule explicitly stating how the facility will stay compliant.
The United States Postal Service
Since medical waste is expected to undergo treatment before disposal—and because most medical waste generators aren’t adequately fitted to handle this in-house—the United States Postal Service (USPS) gives room for small amounts of medical waste to be shipped to treatment facilities.
However, the agency stipulates certain exhaustive guidelines in terms of how medical waste will have to be packaged before mailing, and mandates that all materials be shipped through USPS-approved containers.
Medical waste disposal companies more or less aid facilities with mailing their waste by providing USPS certified shipping containers, coupled with destruction manifests that note the shipping and treatment process for your records. These containers are also compliant with DOT transportation guidelines.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
Note that the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) involvement with medical waste has not historically been prohibitive. Instead, DEA has put together regulations that make available more options for the disposal methods of prescription drugs. They focus on the proper disposal of prescriptions due to the possibilities of controlled drugs finding their way into anyone’s possession other than the person originally prescribed the medication.
The Disposal Act of 2010 broadened the rules of the Controlled Substance Act that make it easier, rather than challenging, for public and private entities to effectively dispose of unwanted prescriptions instead of just throwing them into the trash. Facilities or individuals looking to dispose of their unwanted drugs can dispose of them through authorized collection receptacles, mail-back services, and take-back events.