It is easy to take for granted the process of medical waste management
. We trust our health care providers to dispose of waste safely and efficiently, yet this has not always been the case. The EPA defines medical waste as “a subset of wastes generated at health care facilities”. The healthcare industry produces unique wastes potentially contaminated with blood, bodily fluids, or other infectious materials. Concerns around the environmental and human risks associated with waste materials, in general, have been a surprisingly recent development.
The first genuine federal effort to protect human health and reduce hazardous waste was the 1965 Solid Waste Disposal Act. The act was revised into the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act on October 21, 1976. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA for short, addressed the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes. This act had the national goal of protecting both human health and the environment from all forms of waste materials.
A demand for specific medical waste management regulations followed soon after. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, concerns specific to medical waste began to grow throughout the 1980s as potentially hazardous wastes were washing up on several east coast beaches. It became clear that medical waste required its own set of regulations. Congress passed the Medical Waste Tracking Act in 1988. This act by congress created definitions for medical waste and guidelines for its proper care and disposal. It also imposed penalties for violations, including hefty daily fines ranging from $25,000 to millions of dollars. In some cases, violations would warrant prison time. The Medical Waste Tracking Act – commonly referred to as the MWTA - was a short-term federal program that the EPA ended in 1991.
There has been no direct regulation of medical waste since the expiration of the MWTA. Instead, medical waste management is now left primarily in the hands of state and municipal agencies. This means that each state has its own unique set of regulations, and it is vital that your business is aware of them. Other health and safety organizations in the USA have also set out standards for medical waste management. These include the FDA, CDC, DOT, and OSHA. Medical waste must also meet general waste management regulations and today's strict emissions standards.